It started with a comment that Olivia barely paid any attention to.
“You never wear colors. Kind of a shame.”
She thought Peter was making a pass at her, and dismissed it with a shrug. There was too much going on to bother about clothes. She wore things that always went together, no matter what was available, and never got caught out if she didn’t get around to doing laundry for two weeks. Black, grey and white were good enough.
But Peter kept noticing it.
The first birthday gift he bought her was a pale green cashmere sweater. Sized perfectly, beautifully soft, obviously expensive and excellent quality (not the same thing, which she knew well but didn’t expect Peter to know). She stuffed it in the back of her closet where the color didn’t intrude on the peace of black, grey and white, and never wore it.
For Christmas the same year, it was red and blue mittens and a matching bobble hat, more a joke gift than anything. They went next to the green sweater and she covered them up with a ratty old sweatshirt (grey) for good measure. And never wore them.
She never got him a Christmas gift, nor birthday gifts, even though she knew when his birthday was, of course. It wasn’t the kind of relationship they had.
Once, when a case went (literally) hairy, and then wet and then fiery, they ended up at the lab, freezing and soaked and ragged. Nothing of what they wore could be of any further use, and as they stripped and dried off, cool and professional, Olivia found two piles of fabric nudged in her direction from where Peter was very carefully Not Looking, as she was Not Looking at him.
“I keep some spare stuff here.” Was the simple explanation. Two college sweatshirts from colleges Peter definitely hadn’t attended: one a rich forest green, the other navy blue. Olivia had a spare shirt and yoga pants in her locker, but the sweatshirts both looked deliciously warm. After a moment of hesitation, she grabbed the blue.
If Peter smiled more warmly at her, she told herself it wa only because they’d survived, and were no longer in danger of burning or freezing to death.
Her next birthday gift was a beaded bracelet in grey, white and navy blue. She wore it once, to go undercover, and knew Peter noticed.
Later, after everything went to hell twice, and Bell, and Walternate, and Fauxlivia, and hell again, they had a quiet sort of moment. And Peter produced, in a plain plastic bag, a pair of socks. Pale purple socks.
“You’re still trying that?” She was too tired to make her response flirty or cute or not hurtful. “I won’t wear them.”
She’d tried wearing the green sweater, twice. The second time she’d even gotten to pulling it over her head and threading one arm through a sleeve before she tore it off. Stupid goddamn conditioning; she knew it wasn’t her fault, knew it wasn’t something really broken in her. “I like colors. Just-”
“-Not to wear. I know.” Peter looked earnest and adorable, which stopped her from just walking away. “I thought - I mean, if you wanted to just try - socks go under your boots. Nobody can see them. I thought it might be easier, to start with.”
“Oh.” Against her will, she’s touched. They’d been about as intimate as two people could get, by that point, and it still very like the most personal thing, his buying her something she could wear without anybody knowing but the two of them.
She appreciated his wisdom in making it socks instead of lingerie.
It took her four months to try on the socks, and she took advantage of a very very cold day. The purple socks on her feet, with a practical black pair covering them up. Knowing she had them on kept her warmer than actually wearing them, and pulling the leg of her black trousers up, just a little, rolling the black sock down, just a little, to show a stripe of purple, felt deliciously wicked. Peter’s radiant grin was pretty good, too.
He started buying her socks at every opportunity, after that. Red and blue and striped and checked. The neon yellow ones she threw back at him, so he got an identical, larger pair to show her it could be done. The orange and green houndstooth pattern even he admitted he refused to wear. They both drew the line at bubblegum pink. In the mess of timelines and betrayal and death, it was a game they played and made Olivia’s heart lighter with every color she wore.
Eventually, she got herself all the way to bright red socks with nothing to cover them up except her shoes. After that, she ventured, sometimes, carefully, into pastel shirts.
It took Peter several years to dare to buy her lingerie in bright colors, and a few more years for her to dare to wear it.
Years and years later, several timelines removed, Olivia wore dark blue jeans and a pale green cashmere sweater to the memorial service to everyone they had lost. She stood out among the sober suits and raincoats, and felt alive with every fibre of her being. Peter wore pale blue socks and red boxer shorts with Golden Snitches on them, under his formal dress shoes and dark grey suit (she’d bought them for him).
It was the only time she wore that sweater. And that was alright.