Sleep is eluding her, the way it always is when she needs it the most.
In the past four days, Olivia has slept six hours, at best; most of it came from a broken succession of ten minutes naps. While they were going against the clock and time slipped away from them at an accelerating pace, sleep became a privilege none of them could afford anymore.
It turns out to be just as unattainable now that she’s safely back at home.
Despite her bone-deep exhaustion and the comforting knowledge that they succeeded, whenever she starts drifting off, Olivia finds herself standing amongst luscious trees that tower over her and reach up to the skies, darkening her surroundings. She knows the Forest to be nothing more than a product of her imagination, the remnants from a scared little girl’s mind, who had been trapped in that place time and time again.
Yet the memory of it is as oppressing as the experience itself had been, somehow still able to feel the wind that had rustled the leaves and whispered in her ear.
She re-opens her eyes and grabs her phone, out of habit more than anything else, almost wishing it would ring, Broyles announcing she’s needed back at the office. It wouldn’t. Shortly after the building had disappeared, back in New York, he’d summoned them all in what had been their HQ at Massive Dynamic; after some compulsory congratulating for their ‘exceptional work and their resilience’, he ordered them all back to Boston for some ‘well-deserved rest’. He was particularly stern toward Olivia when he forbad her to show up at the federal building until after noon.
Her phone remains silent in her hand, bleakly stating the time – 5:56am, confirming what her internal clock suspected: she’s been turning and tossing for over an hour.
The sun is starting to rise outside, and she thinks of Peter.
They haven’t talked since Massive Dynamic, not properly, and definitely not alone. In the aftermath of finding the building, she’d been too high on adrenaline to even stop and think about what had allowed her to see the glimmer in the first place. She suspects some denial from her subconscious as well, avoiding him as she ought to avoid him in that sort of situation. Meanwhile, he behaved absolutely Peter-like, giving her the space she needed.
She’s come down from her high now – crashed from it, really – allowing regrets to sneak in. Not about what happened, but about how she’d behaved afterwards.
She starts dialing his number, the rest of it soon appearing, as her phone’s memory knows how often she uses it. She doesn’t press the call button, though. He’d gotten about as much sleep as she had, these past few days, and with Walter in queue, she doubts he’s been sleeping for long.
Waking him up has become something of a running joke between them, but she doesn’t want to joke today. She just wants to hear his voice.
She opens up her text messages. ‘Call me when you’re up? Nothing urgent, just catching up.’
She’s not even done putting the device back on her nightstand that it’s ringing and vibrating in her hand. She brings the phone to her ear without checking the screen, aware that she’s already smiling.
“Did I wake you?” She asks in a hushed tone.
“Oddly enough, you did not.” He sounds alert enough, his voice slightly lower than usual, huskier, and she pictures him lying in bed, as unable to sleep as she is. “You’d think being overtired would make this falling asleep thing easier.”
“As a professional insomniac, I can attest that it never does,” she says. “Why is that?”
“Sleep debt,” he answers simply and confidently, as she knew he would. “The less sleep you get, the more your sleep debt increases, while your functionality decreases. That’s when your body starts experiencing stress responses over the smallest things, and begins to release way more adrenaline than it should, creating a nice, little vicious circle. You feel more and more tired as the hours go by, but your body is increasingly stimulated.”
“Let me guess,” she easily replies even as she stifles a yawn, already feeling more relaxed than she did a minute ago. “Having a highly stressful job that involves shapeshifters and alternate universes possibly colliding does not help.”
“Uh uh,” he confirms. “Many studies recommend sticking to easier life styles free of death threats, and to surround yourself with pets. Keep the gun, though. You never know.”
She chuckles almost soundlessly, curling a bit more beneath her comforter; despite the familiar aches in her muscles, sleep already seems more attainable.
A few seconds of comfortable silence pass before he speaks again, his voice softer, more serious, too. “You okay?”
With the thumb of her free hand now pressed between her closed eyes, she smiles. Peter asks this question – or variations of it – so often that it could have turned in to a platitude by now. It never feels like one.
“Just sore,” she admits. “Apparently, trying not to get sucked into an interdimensional vortex comes with some bruising side-effects.”
“I can imagine.”
This statement clearly wasn’t meant to hold any kind of connotation, yet it did, all on its own.
Olivia has a fleeting vision of Peter staring at her body, looking for these bruises…trailing his fingers over her marked skin.
She bites down on her lip, silence stretching, somehow aware her vision isn’t one-sided. She can’t say that she’s never entertained the thought of Peter’s hands on her before; they are two adults working in close proximity an average of eighteen hours a day, who indeed happen to escape life-or-death situations every couple of weeks or so, which do cause hormones and emotions to run high. She’s always pushed these thoughts back, though, as they are unsafe and unwise and unreasonable.
Today, when she tries pushing these images back, they are swiftly replaced by a recent memory, in which his fingers were on her cheek, his hot breath on her lips.
She’d breathed out his name, almost afraid to say it.
“I’m here.” Somehow, his voice is even lower than before.
She knows then that they have stumbled upon ‘that’ line, back in that room. If she were honest with herself – which she rarely is when it comes to this man and her feelings for him, she would say that they did much more than stumble on that line. They steeped on it rather dramatically, now wavering between two sides.
She is just as confident that he wouldn’t push her, either way. He would let her choose where to go from here. If she decides to ignore what (almost) happened, he would follow her lead.
But if she decides to cross the line, he would cross over with her.
“How about we go get some drinks, tonight?”
Voices are competing in Olivia’s head; most of them aren’t hers.
This is not a date.
The words echo in her mind, over and over again as she readies herself for the evening, from one thorough shower to changing her shirt three times, almost wishing she owned at least one piece of clothing that isn’t dark by default.
You stay fit; stay focused, and stay ready. I wore the black and the grays. I blended in.
She chases Nick’s voice as swiftly as she used to chase any notion of Peter becoming more than her partner.
This is not a date, she repeats herself as she changes her mind once more and frees her hair. Date or no date, the prospect of this simple outing is drawing out a side of her that has been buried deep for well over a year, now.
She also happens to be self-aware enough to realize that this sudden need for normality, in the form of drinks with someone she cares for, is closely linked to how the events of the past few days have made her anything but normal.
We had to prepare guardians, someone to watch the gate.
Despite her best efforts at pretending this isn’t what it is, by the time she reaches the Bishop’s house, her nerves have started to manifest themselves. The knot in her stomach isn’t unfamiliar or worrying, as part of her vaguely remembers it isn’t uncommon before a…non-date.
The knot immediately turns into a brick when the door opens, and she finds herself face to face with Walter, her smile faltering.
It should have worked. This is the very sort of thing that William and I were preparing for.
“Agent Dunham,” he greets, subdued, having the decency to look down as he awkwardly steps aside to let her in.
She doesn’t even bother with a nod as she enters the house, pushing both her hands in the pockets of her jeans.
“I’ll be right down!” Peter calls out from what she guesses must be his room, upstairs.
Olivia’s heart is beating too fast again, and nerves have nothing to do with it. She feels Walter’s eyes on her, even as she stares at a point in the distance, well-decided not to look at him.
Her relationship with the old man has never been easy, nor has it been simple, treading a thin line between acceptance and resentment.
Walter can be obnoxious and exuberant at time, his wobbly mental state giving him a child-like quality that makes it difficult not to feel for him, or even care. But behind this emotional persona remains a calculating man who has used his intellect and power to do things that are beyond questionable.
That includes experimenting on three-year-old children.
Unsurprisingly, the injustice Olivia feels is fueled more by the thought of all these other victims than by what was done to her. Even now, she struggles to accept the fact that this little girl in the Forest was a young version of herself. She sees her more as an amalgam of all these defenseless children Walter and William Wilam Bell had put through these tests.
Who else will seek justice for these children now, if she doesn’t?
“How are you feeling?” Walter asks, tentatively enough. And then, he has to add: “Any side effect?”
Olivia slowly turns her head to meet the old man’s eyes, and he nearly recoils under her glare. She despises the fact that even now, her main emotion is anger, proving him right. Yet again, there is nothing impressive in him understanding this coping mechanism of hers, as he is at the source of it.
She forces herself not to say what she wants to say, biting on the inside of her cheek. Walter is Peter’s father. Peter is his caregiver. If she upsets him now by being honest and harsh the way she has been in the past, it would put a strain on their evening.
And she really needs a normal outing, one that does not involve talking about being experimented on when she was three.
(Or thirty hours ago)
She looks away, pinching her lips tightly. “I’m fine,” she replies, her voice as expressionless as her face – she hopes.
She hears Peter’s footsteps coming down moments before he appears, and a rush of relief courses through her, attenuating some of the anger that still twists her guts. As she watches him come down the stairs, she briefly forgets about Walter, who still stands less than five feet away from her.
This is the most ‘cleaned up’ she’s ever seen him, except for the couple of times he’d worn a suit for one of their undercover missions. He’s not as dressed-up as he was on those occasions, but this is a definite step-up from the casual clothes she’s so used to seeing him in.
He very much looks like someone about to go on a date.
She feels underdressed herself, now, in her jeans, her simple shirt and her leather jacket, although she knows the dressier option would have been a dress, accompanied with jewelry and even some mascara.
But Peter smiles, then, a boyish, almost timid kind of smirk, and Olivia doesn’t care much about what she is wearing.
“Hey,” he greets her, already putting on the pea coat he brought down with him. “I know this great place, only a couple of blocks from here, I thought we could walk?”
He clearly is as eager as she is to escape Walter’s proximity. She feels the older man’s eyes on her, and knows he is staring. Despite her better judgment, she looks away from Peter to look at his father.
Walter’s expression is odd, almost expectant and…dreading?
She can’t help but frown a little, once more made uncomfortable under his scrutiny. Within seconds, her irritation is flaring up again, anything but pleased that he is studying her so overtly.
She averts her eyes, forcing her shoulders to relax as she attempts to push her hands even deeper in her pockets. The silence that hangs in the foyer does not last long, but it feels suffocating. She knows without looking that Peter is aware of the tension between her and his father, just as aware of the reasons behind it.
She sees him move closer to her from the corner of her eyes, feels him step in her personal space, as if declaring his allegiance. “Astrid is on her way, she should be here in a few minutes,” he says, a bit coldly. “Please leave the appliances alone in the meantime.”
As he spoke, he’d pressed a gentle hand to the small of her back, now silently directing her toward the front door, using his free hand to open it. He leans forward as he does so, invading that personal space of hers, and she breathes in more deeply than necessary, her lungs filling up with his scent, clearer and stronger than usual, causing her insides to clench.
“Have a nice time,” Walter says from behind them as they walk out. “And remember to be sa–”
Peter closes the door loudly, drowning the last of his father’s words, a second too late. “It’s like he’s purposefully trying to make this awkward.”
A few replies come to Olivia’s mind, a bit witty and derisive, ready to slip back in the easy banter that often characterizes her casual conversations with Peter these days. She remains quiet instead, tensed and slightly off balance as she stares at her parked car across the street, aware that if she said anything, her words would sound hollow and forced.
Peter’s hand had left her back when she’d started walking through the door. She feels it come and rest on her arm. “What did he say to you?”
Both his touch and voice are soft, drawing her eyes back to him. She holds his gaze for a couple seconds, seeing the familiar mix of concern and aggravation in his eyes, and in the subtle shift of his features.
She shrugs and purses her lips, tilting her head in cautious derision as she looks away. “He just asked about side effects. Must be part of their protocol, I guess.”
There is no hiding the bitterness from her voice, and his fingers squeeze her arm; she knows what she would see if she looked back at him. She would see what she saw so many times back in Jacksonville.
She shakes her head, then, dismissive, forcing herself to smile. “It doesn’t matter. Let’s just go.”
Another few seconds pass, before his hand leaves her arm. When she looks up at him, he nods in understanding, and quite naturally, she links her arm with his.
The night air isn’t warm, not at this time of year or at this time of day, and she initially wonders if her jacket will be enough to keep the cold afar. The jacket might not be, Peter is. They don’t say a single word in the eight minutes it takes them to walk to the place he’s chosen; the silence isn’t awkward, though.
Olivia focuses solely on the feel of him by her side, on the reassuring pressure of his arm against hers, on the way their steps easily synchronize. There is something soothing in walking with him, not talking, certainly not working, not even overthinking anything for a few minutes.
Right now, they are two good friends on their way to a bar. Whether or not they will still call each themselves friends by the time they take the walk back doesn’t matter much; not yet.
When they come to a stop in front of a building, Olivia is slightly taken aback. This is not a bar, but a restaurant. Before she can start wondering if Peter wants to turn this into an actual dinner date, he answers her unspoken question with his own.
There is no expectation in this simple word, or in his tone. As it is so often the case with peter, he is letting her choose, letting her take the lead without pushing. She briefly entertains the thought of going for a full meal, the two of them sitting at a table, their waiter treating them like a proper couple.
While Olivia doesn’t mind the idea itself, can even see it unfolding naturally in a near future, what stops her from agreeing to it is the formality of it all; going through menus, having to pick dishes, waiting for said dishes, eating, picking a dessert maybe, waiting, asking for the check, more waiting.
She has no doubt it would be pleasant, but a lengthy outing is not what she has in mind, nor what she needs. What she needs is the simplicity of drinking a beer and a couple of shots sitting on bar stools, along with the freedom of dropping a twenty-dollar bill next to their half-empty bottles before dragging him out of there…if the urge arose.
“Thirsty,” she answers simply, hoping he will understand why she’s turning down his dinner invitation. When she meets his eyes and holds his gaze, the way he swallows before nodding confirms that he does.
Once inside, it isn’t long before Olivia begins to notice changes in Peter’s behavior.
As soon as they take their seats at the bar and order their first beer, he easily falls back into what she guesses is an old habit of carrying a conversation, not letting any kind of silence settle between them. This in itself would not have been strange, if his rambling hadn’t been accompanied with smiles that don’t quite look like his own. Once their beers arrive, he starts playing with his, swaying it on the bar, almost at a metronomic rhythm. He also gulps down most of the small peanut dish that was put between them within minutes, even making a show of popping some of them in his mouth by throwing them high above his head, expertly catching every single one of them.
Olivia is initially taken aback by this odd, twitchy version of Peter, holding back her incredulous frowns and feigning to be impressed by his party trick. Her incredulity soon makes place to something close to endearment, though, when it becomes clear to her.
Empathetic as she is, Olivia should have every reason to be affected by this blatant display of edginess; it has the opposite effect instead.
She used to pride herself for her ability to keep control over her emotions, no matter the situation; she would use them as a catalyst, but she made it a point not to let herself be overwhelmed. That ability of hers has taken a toll since she joined the Fringe Division. These past few months, as she repeatedly found herself floundering, Peter often had to assume the role of the level-headed one.
He has become an unwavering presence in her life, more than a mere work partner. He’s her friend, her close friend, a safe companion who not only has her back on the field, but outside of it as well. He understands what it’s like to live the kind of life she lives, because he’s living it with her.
He’s earned the right to be nervous; she can be the level-headed one, tonight.
They talk about nonessential things at first, Olivia doing most of the listening, letting herself be in the moment, becoming more and more aware of the effect she is having on him. While she lets him talk, she begins adjusting her body language after their legs start touching and do not separate again. She licks the alcohol from her lips a bit too often, and barely blinks as she looks at him.
Before long, they’ve downed two shots of whiskey each, and although Olivia needs twice that amount to start feeling tipsy, she sticks to beer after that. She enjoys the warm sensation the alcohol is creating in her veins, and the way it helps her muscles relax, but she is enjoying the feel of Peter’s leg against her own even more, the distance between them gradually disappearing.
Once again, he’s following her lead.
She can tell their sleep deprivation and the stress of the past few days have lowered his tolerance level, which seems to help him unwind after a while. Nerves or not, he’s responding to her, leaning closer and closer, his scent soon invading hers lungs and head again, until he’s all she breathes.
There is something exhilarating in letting this unfold. This is not some (non) date with a man she hardly knows. This man sharing her personal space is her closest friend, the person who follows her down the rabbit hole on a daily basis.
This is Peter.
And because this is Peter indeed and not some random stranger, the initial nonchalance of their conversation doesn’t even last an hour. As the night progresses and the rate of their drinking slows, so does the place around them, the buzz of the alcohol dissipating to make place to the easy warmth of their companionship.
Eventually, they find themselves sharing their first real silence since they entered the place, both of them casually leaning upon the bar, mirroring each other with their cheek upon their fist, not much distance left between them, yet not seeking to come any closer for now. The seconds pass lazily, and Olivia almost sees the exhaustion settling down on his bones, the way it is on hers.
“You okay?” He asks after some time. Still not a platitude.
She doesn’t answer at first, not entirely sure how she feels, beside comforted by his presence. She knows what he’s asking, though.
Peter had naturally protested when Walter suggested using her to find the building, but once her mind was set and they left for Jacksonville, he’d offered her nothing but support, a quiet but strong presence by her side. That’s why she sought him out, last night, when she was once again forced to admit that she had failed, that all these people were going to die because of her inability to fear.
She’d been at her lowest yet, helpless to do anything to stop this disaster from happening, and she was instinctively drawn to him. He followed her deep into that last rabbit hole, caught her at the bottom of it, and helped her find her way out.
Even now, she sees the conflict in his eyes, a combination of concern for her, and resentment over what his father did. Less than two hours ago, talking about what had happened to her and everything it implied was the last thing she wanted to do.
But this – him – feels safe.
She goes for a half-shrug, eventually, followed by a brief shake of her head. “None of this seems real,” she says, quietly. “Rationally, I know it all happened. But it feels like it happened to somebody else, you know?”
His gaze has become more intense, not a trace of a smile left on his lips. “Who did you see?” He asks after another long silence. “Back in Jacksonville, in the forest.” Then, seeing her confusion, he explains: “You talked, during the experiment.”
Her gaze leaves his. Almost against her will, she remembers that frightened little girl, lost amongst the trees.
Please. Make them stop. Please make them stop it.
She swallows hard, her throat constricting. “Olive.” She replies at last, her voice quiet and low.
She doesn’t dare meet his eyes again, not until she’s regained some control, aware of his gaze on her.
“I’m sorry,” Peter says, and his voice sounds as constricted as hers, drawing her eyes back to his.
She shakes her head faintly. “Don’t apologize,” she says. “You didn’t do anything to me.”
Had she felt more courageous, she would have told him how his mere presence made this more bearable.
“No, but Walter did,” he says. “And since I doubt he’ll ever apologize to you, the least I can do is do it for him.”
She half-shrugs again, trying to dismiss what they both know can’t be dismissed. “At least it wasn’t all for nothing. It did work, eventually.”
This ability you’ve demonstrated, what finally activated it?
On principle, her professional conscience makes it difficult for her to lie to her superiors; in this case, she saw it as a necessary omission more than as an act of defiance. What had happened in that room is too personal for her to be able to describe it to herself, least of all to Broyles.
It was the messy result of four days without any real sleep, the aftereffect of being drugged and put through a distressing psychological test, mixed with the harsh realisation that she had failed, all of it drawn out and heightened by Peter’s quiet power on her, allowing her to bend under the weight of her insecurities, to let herself be vulnerable and scared.
The memory of that kiss they almost shared hangs between them, now. Their faces aren’t quite as close as they had been last night, but only by inches.
And again, Peter does not look down at her lips, keeping his eyes fixed on hers, slowly tilting his head upon his fist. “What does it look like?” He asks.
Olivia frowns a little. “The glimmer?”
He nods faintly, and her gaze leaves his as her mind drifts back to what saw and felt the previous night.
Her heart had been pounding in her chest, faster than it is now, although it has sped up in the last couple minutes. Every inch of her body had tingled with anticipation, with that overwhelming rush of mad trepidation she normally shied away from.
“It’s like…a photograph that’s been over exposed,” she says, picturing the building in her mind. “Except that it’s not static at all. It moves. Sways.”
Pulses. Like fear in her heart.
She doesn’t realize how lost in her thoughts she’s become, until she sees his hand come up to her face, bringing her eyes back to him. As he gently pushes some of her hair back, tucking it behind her ear, something odd happens.
For the briefest of instant, the low lighting combined with her memories of the previous night cause Peter’s face to start shimmering, soft light wavering less than an inch from his skin.
Olivia closes her eyes, focusing on the feel of his fingers as they briefly trail her jawline, before he lets his hand fall down. The gesture was swift and tender, so unequivocally platonic and…Peter.
And the same softness is in his voice when he says: “I meant it, you know.”
I’ve never met anyone…who can do the things that you do.
When she reopens her eyes, the shimmer is gone.
She’s very aware of the press of his thigh against her own, of how close their faces are, so close that she can’t tell if she’s imagining the warmth that seems to be radiating from him. While she easily dismisses his praises, unwarranted and unnecessary, she is incapable of dismissing him, of ignoring that pull in his eyes, his silent affirmation that he sees her.
“Why don’t you call us a cab?” Even though it’s a question, she’s not really asking, her voice lowered, both in tone and volume.
Her intentions are quite clear, yet Peter frowns as she straightens up. “A cab?” He repeats, genuinely puzzled. “You don’t need a cab, you can sleep over at our house.”
Now looking into her purse for some money, Olivia can’t help but smile. There is something sweet in knowing she can make such a genius completely incapable of performing simple cognition. She puts a couple of bills down on the bar as she stands up, meeting his eyes. He looks more confused by the second, by both her words and actions.
“We’re not going back to your house,” she tells him simply, yet unequivocally.
When his expression begins to change and she’s confident he will make that call, she turns away and walks to the restroom.
He almost stumbles out of his seat a few minutes later when she returns, confirming what she suspected – that her forward attitude will have put him on edge again.
“The taxi’s on its way,” he announces almost casually.
“Good,” she says. “Let’s go wait outside, then.”
The temperature has dropped several degrees in the last couple of hours. Olivia isn’t warm by any stretch of the imagination, but barely two minutes pass before Peter begins to shiver, noticeably cold and uncomfortable.
Ironically enough, despite the unambiguous message behind her request, he’s keeping his distance and avoiding eye contact, hands in his coat pockets, moving from foot to foot, trying to keep warm. Once again, Olivia observes this odd behavior of his, her lips slightly pursed, finding it more intriguing than anything else.
“I didn’t think you did nervous,” she admits after a stretch of silence that definitely wasn’t as comfortable as it had been inside.
He makes a face, apologetic and a bit embarrassed, half-shrugging his shoulders. “I don’t…usually.” He’s still not meeting her eyes.
As she watches him and his tense movements, an odd sense of peace settles upon her.
“Peter,” she calls him out softly, and he has no other choice but to look at her.
Once he does, he doesn’t let go.
She walks closer to him, slowly, her turn to invade his personal space. She only stops when their chests nearly touch, and she has to look up to maintain eye contact. Just as slowly, she sinks her hands in the pockets of his coat, seeking his, finding them, intertwining their fingers together.
As she does so, she lets herself sink against him, finally closing her eyes to rest her forehead against his chest, breathing in his scent imbued in his coat. Before long, one of his hands leaves hers, coming out of his pocket to weave his fingers in her hair, holding her to him.
Soon, his nose is in her hair too, and she hears him as much as she feels him breathing her in, just as deeply, his fingers squeezing hers. He’s relaxing against her, yet she feels the tension constricting his entire body, as if he cannot possibly relax while having her so close.
She herself becomes more and more intoxicated with the smell and feel of him, her heart steadily gaining speed again, causing some of her peace to make place to that same vulnerability that had taken over her back in New York.
She knows he’s nervous because he cares.
He probably cares more deeply than she would let herself admit. The truth is, she cares just as much, and it would take a mere nothing for her to be overcome by this intensity; his intensity.
When she raises her head to look at him, his hand instinctively moves to her cheek, cupping it lightly, the way he had twenty-four hours ago. And again, her tired mind momentarily tricks her, his skin seeming to shimmer faintly under the street light.
She ignores it, as she ignored it inside, focusing on the feel of him instead, closing her eyes when he begins to lean down, and she leans forward to meet him.
And this kiss, too, is unequivocally Peter. Soft and tender, with a hint of passion that grows stronger as the seconds pass.
Olivia doesn’t know when his second hand has left hers to wrap his arm around her, pressing her more firmly to him, or when her own hands have left his pockets, one of them buried in his hair, while the other clutches the helm of his coat.
They somewhat halt when their taxi arrives, only to pick things up once inside the car, giving little care to their driver – who’s probably seen far worse and most likely appreciates the fact that they are both too distracted and hurried to wait for their change.
Olivia leads him inside, and Peter follows. Once in the safe, confined space of her apartment, there is no more holding back. She doesn’t even stop to turn on the lights, everything happening in semi-darkness.
Later, she will blame that unforgivable darkness for shielding from her eyes what she ought to have seen sooner. She will blame herself, too, for ignoring the signs, for ignoring the light that had twice shimmered in warning.
Time and time again, Olivia doesn’t feel entirely in command of what is unfolding, having relinquished what was left of her control as she often does around him these days, letting her body take charge. She’s drowning in him; drowning in the feel of him, of his hands and his mouth and hot breath all over her skin, his touch as reverent as it can be fervent.
And even in the dark, whenever another piece of clothing is discarded, he manages to find the blemishes that mark her skin, his fingers trailing over them, followed by his lips. He’s the only person she can trust with this damaged body of hers, now, the only one who knows the transformation it has undergone over the past year and a half.
He knows how it has become the vessel for something else, for something unknown yet powerful that resides in her blood. Something she dreads but he admires, like so many other aspects of herself.
Day after day, he follows her further and deeper, watching her bend and bruise, yet if his touch is any indication, it does nothing to quell his desire for her.
She’s not the person she was on the day they met; yet again, neither is he. Gone is the guarded, sarcastic con man she quickly pinpointed as being a nuisance before he even said a word to her.
Tonight, she’s with Peter, who so often hides behind his masks, who’d simply needed someone to see him, and give him a chance to grow. And as they rid each other of their clothes, he seems to shed all of these other layers, too.
There is a constant tremor that runs beneath his skin, like an undercurrent, different from the shivers she’s inducing all over his body. It grows stronger as they gain momentum, moving from the living room to her bed, still shrouded in a darkness that is easily surpassed by the heat of their bodies.
She doesn’t mind that he cannot speak, too caught up in her, being told everything she might need to hear in the feel of these quakes that ripple through his flesh, in the weight of his body, and how he clings to her. In the midst of their embrace, she allows herself to do what she so rarely does.
And the truth, when it comes, is unspeakably cruel.
It begins in the wake of their passion, when the air is still again, not even disturbed by the sound of their breathing, which has slowed and quieted. It begins as Peter sleeps and she doesn’t, half-resting on his chest, watching him and marveling at both the quietude and chaos he creates in her soul.
Outside, a cloud shifts, and moonlight streams through a crack in the blinds.
It seemingly seeps out of his skin, soft at first, almost unnoticeable. But Olivia does notice it, and her quietude quivers as her heart begins to speed up once more. Chaos takes over, serenity morphing into agony as she stares at this shimmer, at this traitorous light that grows stronger and brighter with every labored breath she takes.
Soon, it is moving around him, swaying.
And that truth, when it comes, is unspeakably cruel.
Of the thirty children that William Bell and I experimented on, you were the first with the ability to identify things from the other side.