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Drown Out the Crowd

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Olivia has never done things half-way.

So on a scale of one to ten, using one’s partner as her own personal BattleBot in a rooftop throwdown rates somewhere between ‘epic’ and ‘apocalyptic’.

But then, after the near-universe-rendering climax on the boat, things quiet down again. Nothing happens for several weeks, and when it does, it’s so subtle that Peter barely notices.

He’s in the kitchen putting supper together. There are still things about this version of Olivia’s apartment that aren’t completely familiar to him; the sofa’s on the wrong side of the living room, mugs are kept where the cereal used to be shelved, the bathroom door swings from the left, not the right. Minor details. Locating something isn’t exactly an insurmountable challenge. Except at the moment, the pasta’s about the boil over and he can’t find the strainer.

“Bottom cupboard, by the fridge,” Olivia’s voice comes from the bedroom, and sure enough, there’s the strainer nested in with the mixing bowls. He has to rush to catch the water from splashing all over the stove and making a gummy mess, so it doesn’t occur to him until later that he never actually asked her where it was. He writes it off as coincidence, because something like this is barely a blip on their weirdness bell curve.

~

It happens a few more times before Olivia even notices she’s doing it; she’ll hold out a pen or a soldering iron just as he’s about to reach for it, or bring him a cup of coffee only moments after the thought of actually wanting one crosses his mind. He chalks it up to spending so much of their waking (and sleeping) hours together; she’s picking up on his subtle cues in that way couples who have been together for years are known to do.

“So Walter, that’s a Caprese panini, extra cheese, and a corned beef on rye for you Peter?” Olivia asks as she grabs her coat and keys on her way to meet Astrid at the door.

“Sure,” Peter answers without looking up from the stack of files he’s sorting. “That sounds good. How’d you know?”

Olivia stops, turns back from the stairs. “That’s what you asked for, wasn’t it?”

“What do you mean?” he frowns. “I never said anything.”

“Sure you did.” She cants her head like she’s replaying the last minute or two of conversation. “When I asked Walter what he wanted from Oscar’s, you said ‘pick me up a corned beef on rye and for the love of god, don’t let them try and use Dijon again.’”.

“I didn’t hear him,” Astrid says. “And I was standing right beside him. Peter didn’t say a word.” All three turn to Walter.

“Walter, did you hear Peter say anything?” Astrid prompts.

He blinks and removes the noise-cancelling headphones he’s wearing. “Peter’s said a lot of things today.” Astrid plants her hands on her hips. “But… but in the last half hour? No. He’s been quiet as a clam.”

Olivia shakes her head. “I could’ve sworn…” but Peter doesn’t hear the rest of it because she’s already on her way out the door.

The current case fills the rest of the afternoon with background checks and phone record requests, cross-referencing credit card statements with gas stations receipts, the more banal and unglamorous side of crime fighting. Olivia doesn’t say anything about the mind reading, and he doesn’t bring it up, but he also notices that she’s keeping her distance from him, as much as one can within the confines of the lab and its adjacent rooms.

~

“So,” Peter says later on the drive home, “that’s been happening a lot lately.”

She blows out a breath. “Peter—“

He holds up his hands in mock-surrender. “Hey, I’m cool with it. You just had me thinking I was losing my marbles there a few times.”

“Okay,” she says, but he can tell she’s not.

Traffic is light at this time of day, the light cycles shifted into their evening programming, and it’s a long, quiet stretch before they stop at a red again. Peter just lets her drive and doesn’t push her; it’s bothering her, that much he can tell, but whether it’s because she didn’t notice she was doing it, or because she can still read him at all, he’s not sure.

“Listen, Olivia,” he finally says. “You’re probably worried that I’m feeling violated by this somehow, and I just want you to know that’s not the case. It’s all been pretty mundane stuff, as far as I can tell.”

She lets out a little huff that tells him she knows better. Peter turns so he can watch her, but she refuses to meet his eye. The light turns green and she hits the accelerator harder than she needs to, pushing him back into his seat. Peter raises an eyebrow in her direction.

“Sorry.”

“You’re not, but apology accepted.” He reaches across the center console and gently squeezes her thigh. Her muscles feel tight under his fingers. He lets his thumb sweep along the outside of her leg, just above her knees until her eyes dart in his direction for a second, then back to the road. She eases off the pedal enough that their speed falls back to somewhere near the legal limit again. “Would it make you feel better if I said you could read me whenever you wanted, as long as you’re using your powers for good and not evil?” And there’s that twitch at the corner of her mouth he’s been looking for, but it’s blink-and-miss-it quick.

“It’s just that… ” she finally says as she puts the car in park. She’s managed to find a spot only half a block from her apartment, but for the moment, neither of them make a move to get out of the car. “I thought Walter said that now that the levels of Cortexiphan in my system have dropped, I shouldn’t be able to do things like this anymore.”

“He said you wouldn’t be able to run around setting things on fire.”

She leans back against the head rest and closes her eyes as something crumbles inside her. “I’d hoped… now of all times…” Peter wishes he could take the words right back. She presses her lips together, and turns her head away, toward the window.

“Olivia, I’m sorry.” He reaches for her hand, laces his fingers between hers. “Here you’re worried about the baby and I’m making jokes about superpowers. Terrible ones, at that.”

Olivia rolls her head back towards him. With the car off, there’s no light from the dash for him to see her face, no way to get a read on what she’s thinking. The only sounds are their breathing and the creak of the seat as she shifts slightly. She runs her thumb along his brow.

“Oh Peter, you’re worried too.”

He thinks it shouldn’t take special powers to figure that one out.

“It doesn’t.” Then she amends. “I just thought that everything I was feeling tonight… I thought that was all me.” She leans forward until her forehead’s pressed against his. “I should have known I was picking you up too.”

“Hey, it’s not like there’s an instruction manual for these things.” He touches her cheek, moves his hand so that his palm cups the side of her face. “Well maybe the boxes of comic books I used to have growing up might have given me some insight, but I never thought I’d be identifying with Lois Lane.”

And finally, a smile, a real one, not just a ghost. She turns into his hand, brushes her lips against his wrist. “You really think of me as your Clark Kent?”

He reaches for his door handle. “You or Lincoln. It was a toss-up. The superpowers tipped the scales.” He’s out of the car before he can see the look she throws his way, but he can certainly feel it.

~

On Thursday they go their separate ways: Olivia to the Federal building for a series of meetings and status reports, Peter to the lab, as usual. He’s late leaving because Walter’d sent him into the bowels of the storage room in search of the remains of some theory he’d been working on back in the 80s, something to do with quantum mirrors or windows into other universes (“But not doors!” Walter had lectured. “We know now that the balance between universes is too fragile. We can look, but we must not touch again.”).

He stops for takeout on the way, and while he’s waiting for the order to be boxed and bagged, he wanders into the liquor store three doors down on a whim. If he were anyone else, employed by anyone other than Fringe Division, he might find the compulsion to grab a bottle of Maker’s a little odd. Sweet isn’t usually his preference when it comes to alcohol; he prefers something drier with a meal, or a lager if he’s drinking for the long haul. Bourbon is more Olivia’s style.

She’s at the table when gets home, head bent over the folders and forms spread out in front of her. “Hey,” she says when she hears him come in. She looks like she’s been at whatever it is she’s been working on for a while: an empty glass and three mugs with tea bag strings draped over the edges have been pushed to the side or stacked on a crumb-dusted plate to make room for her papers. Her hair, which she’d pulled back and pinned neatly in a braid this morning, is still plaited, but looser now, little wisps having escaped, and which are now tucked behind her ears. Peter can’t help but smile when she looks up at him and tilts her head back to see him clearly through her glasses instead of pushing them back up or taking them off altogether. It’s a sign she’s been focusing too long if she doesn’t even realize she’s still wearing them.

“Hey,” He starts unloading the takeout containers, pausing to straighten some of her piles of papers. “Meetings run long?”

“No,” she says as she starts gathering things up. “Got out early, actually. I was going to stop by the lab, but once I left the building, I realized I was exhausted, so I came back here and took a nap.” She holds up a hand. “I’m fine, really Peter, don’t worry. It’s a normal pregnancy thing.”

“Who said I was worried?” he tries to blow it off. She’s still reading him, whether she realizes it or not, and while he knows she is fine as she says, he can’t quite cover his gut reaction fast enough for her not to pick up on it. “So funny thing…” he pulls out the bottle of bourbon to change the subject.

Olivia’s mouth makes a little ‘oh’. “You got my message.”

“Not explicitly.” He puts the bottle aside and crumples the paper bag into a ball. “Are we expecting company or something?” The only other person he can think of in their tiny circle of acquaintances who might appreciate the drink would be Broyles, and he doesn’t exactly figure into Peter’s plans for the evening. He looks up to catch Olivia watching him, eyebrow raised, over the top of her glasses and he knows she caught a glimpse of that last part.

“Because this isn’t my brand and I thought you were on hiatus.”

“I am, of course,” she says, and of that he has no doubt. Since finding out about the baby, Olivia’s followed every rule in the book. It’s probably the only time in her life she has. “Before you got home, I was just thinking how much better a drink would taste compared to another mug of peppermint tea.” She takes off her glasses and rubs the bridge of her nose. “Of all the things to crave.”

She closes the last folder and taps the edge of the stack on the table so they all line up square before she puts them aside and goes to the kitchen to retrieve plates and silverware. Peter cracks the seal on the bourbon bottle, half-way through un-capping it before he realizes he’s doing it. He puts the bottle back down sharply and pulls his hand away as if it had bitten him.

There’s an intake of breath from the kitchen doorway. Olivia thrusts the stack of dishes in his direction and turns quickly in retreat.

She’s standing with her back to him, hands braced against the counter top. “You might not want to be here right now.”

“Olivia,” Peter slips one hand around her waist, and with the other, brushes her braid aside so he can press his lips to the back of her neck, “this is exactly where I want to be.” He reaches past her to the open cupboard and grabs a lowball glass. Olivia turns her head to look at him over her shoulder, her brow furrowed.

“That’s not me.”

“I know.” He takes her hand, gives her a little tug, back to the table. “I said it wasn’t my brand. I didn’t say I wouldn’t drink it.”

“Peter, you don’t have to. It’s not like it won’t keep.”

He picks up the bottle again, pours a good inch and a half into the glass. He tilts his wrist so the liquid swirls up and around the side of the glass, then holds it up to his nose and inhales. “Tell me what you smell.” It sounds like something Walter would ask (and has, on many occasions) one of them to do. Olivia looks suspicious. “No, really,” he says. “Remember when I said I didn’t mind you using your powers on me for good? This would be one of those times.”

She’s still skeptical, but she closes her eyes and rolls her shoulders, making a show of needing to concentrate. She doesn’t – she’s been reading him so easily these last few weeks, but Peter can see that going through the motions puts her at ease. He holds the glass up again and breathes in.

“Caramel…“ she says and takes a deep breath of her own. “Hint of vanilla, maybe?” She opens her eyes again. “This okay?”

It’s more than okay, he thinks, and Olivia’s mouth lifts into a soft smile as she picks that up, and more. It seems to be the approval she needs. Peter feels a flush of warmth from head to toe that makes his heart speed up; the constriction in his chest he hadn’t noticed before eases, and he finally gets a sense of the magnitude of what she’s been holding back from him. “It’s really okay Olivia,” he says, because he needs her to hear the words from him, not just read them.

She takes a step closer, dips her index finger into the glass, runs it along his bottom lip. Her tongue darts out, sweeps across her own, and he follow suite, unsure whether it’s her or it’s himself, and not caring either way. “Sweet. Like oak… sort of warm and earthy… oh wow,” she breathes. “It’s never tasted this intense before.”

Peter takes a sip, holds it in his mouth. He watches her close her eyes again, this time to narrow her focus so completely on the taste. She doesn’t say anything before he’s compelled to swallow, her throat working synchronously with his. And then she cups his chin, draws him to her so she can kiss him deeply, savouring his mouth for real, and it’s not just his belly that’s on fire now.

They do break for air, finally, and his whole body is thrumming with want and need. He’s stopped trying to sort out what part of it is his and what part isn’t because they’re blurring together, all sensation becoming one in the same. She kisses him again, her tongue flicking over his bottom lip, tasting him. He runs his fingers up under her shirt, along her spine, and a shiver runs through her, transmits through his own muscles by virtue of induction, and throws him off balance. He almost stumbles.

Olivia grabs his free hand to steady him. She laces her fingers through his, sweeps her thumb along his knuckles. “We should…” she doesn’t have to finish. He’s already reaching for the glass.

She hadn’t bothered to change earlier, too focused on the sofa and the nap her body’d been craving, so she’s still wearing the blouse she’d put on that morning. It’s one of Peter’s favorites; subtle pinstripes and tailored lines which accentuate all her curves, especially all the new ones he’s becoming so fond of. At some point, she’d rolled up the cuffs and undone the top buttons, and as the fabric pulls across the swell of her breasts when she goes to unfasten the rest he wills her to please, please, please stop right there. She pauses, fingers still on the button and she gives him that soft smile again, the one that says she’s amused. He feels another rush of heat and realizes that she’s seeing herself through his eyes, discovering how much he loves imagining what’s under the shirt, how much he loves even more how it always exceeds his expectations.

And now that she knows this little secret, she wastes no time exploiting it; she drops her fingers lower, below the apex of her ribs and undoes the rest of the buttons, all the way to the bottom, barely exposing the not-quite flat plane of her stomach. She offers him only a hint of skin, enough to whet his appetite. His mouth begins to water.

She dips her finger in the glass of bourbon again, trails it down her stomach from sternum to navel. Peter kneels in front of her, yearning to discover her taste. He takes his time working his way from top to bottom, sipping at her skin, sampling her like a finely aged vintage. She’s salt and caramel and earthy-sweet, flavor amplified and refined by this mutual feedback loop they share.

His fingers dig into the muscles of her thighs to hold her steady as he nips at the gentle swell settled between the crest of her hips. He tucks a finger in the waistband of her trousers, pops the fasteners loose, kisses the imprint of the stitching in her flesh smooth. Twists his hand and slides a lazy finger down and in, twists again and she grabs the back of his head, a fistful of his hair as she shudders against him. The noise she makes is low and guttural and it reverberate through his forebrain and down to the more primal regions of his mind.

But this isn’t what she wants, not yet. Tonight should be about control, about Olivia taking back some of what was lost – what was taken from her by the trials and the tests. It’s about using those powers they forced onto her to steal back those lost pieces of herself.

She pulls back and Peter helps her out of her pants and she divests him of his. They fall into bed, arranging and tangling themselves until he’s leaning back against the headboard and she’s straddling him, hot and wet and hovering just out of his reach. His hands are free, but she’s got him pinned, incapable of rushing her toward release. Somehow, through all of this, she’s managed not to spill the glass, and now, before she finally sets it aside, she paints dabs of whisky under the angle of her jaw, the corner of her mouth, down the sweep of her throat, plunging below the fabric of her shirt and between her breasts. He laps up every drop, saving her finger for last. He takes it in his mouth and sucks it slowly, tongue curling over her knuckle, suggesting what she’s missing out on. Imagines it and embosses it into her mind.

Olivia’s not so easily distracted though. She slowly shakes her head as if to say she knows what he’s up to, and shifts her hips slightly, until she’s lined up. Eases her way onto him so slowly he forgets to breath, then drags herself back up his length. If she does that three or four more times, he thinks, and he’ll be done.

She holds herself, and him, steady at two.

Olivia lets him catch his breath, and when his heart finally slows, she sits back and undoes those last couple of blouse buttons for him, lets him (or wills him, he not sure and he doesn’t care which) push the fabric aside. Her breasts are fuller now, nipples darker as he body changes and prepares for their child, and incredibly sensitive to his touch. He’s gentle as he can be, but she still hisses as pulls back when his teeth scrape too hard. She grinds against him and he gasps as his hips jerk up into her. And then, when he thinks the doubled sensation of feeling himself moving inside her is too much, even for her to control, he’s overwhelmed by the perception of a cool breeze washing over his skin, easing him back from the edge. He slides his hands under the shirt, splays them along her ribs. She swallows. Her skin is slick with sweat, her breathing’s ragged, her muscles trembling with the effort of keeping them both in check.

She licks her lips. It’s okay, Peter thinks.I’ve got you. Just let go.

She does, releasing him so suddenly he thinks he’s falling. She shifts her hips forward, digs her fingers into his shoulders and buries her head in his neck. She rides him slow and deep at first, then quicker, sharper, shallower, until she clenches around him, and fragments. Her body sends ripples through his mind, dragging him down with her.

Peter wakes some time later to find her still draped over him. She’s watching him through heavy-lidded eyes and he wonders if she’s even slept. She’s stroking her thumb along the bridge of his nose, between his eyes. The rhythm’s hypnotic; if he were a kitten, he’d be purring right about now. Olivia smiles at the image.

Then she turns serious. “We’re good?” Even though there’s no way he can hide it from her if they weren’t.

Peter rubs his hand over her shoulder, enjoying the way his palms rasp over the material of the dress shirt she’s still wearing. “More than good,” he says. He feels buoyed by her sense of security, of loving and feeling loved.

He pulls the sheets over them, slides his hand up her back, rests it along her spine, under the shirt, and leaves it at that.