Olivia looks out across the lab to where Peter's perched, head bent over a tray of samples, shoulders curved with fatigue, and thinks: this is what divorce feels like.
This is knowing Peter so well that she can see how much she’s hurting him with her indifference; this is not being able to simply reach out touch him because everybody keep insisting that he’s not really hers.
It takes everything in her power not to put her pen down, slip off her glasses, and walk over there. She’d run her hand up his spine, along the sweep of his trapezius towards the base of his skull where her thumb would catch the cluster of knots that’ve been building there all evening as he suffers the brunt of another one of Walter’s choleric moods. He’d look up at her and the corner of his mouth would curve up just enough to show her he’s just tired, not to worry, just take me home and bring me to bed and we’ll call it even, before he’d turn back to his stack of labels and slides. She’d give his shoulder a squeeze, in both sympathy and promise. It’s familiar because they do it all the time.
Except they haven’t. She’s only dreamt it.
“There’s nothing here.” Lincoln tosses the folder on top of the ‘reject’ piles and rubs his forehead. “You want to go grab something to eat?”
Olivia blinks. “Um, yeah. Sure. That sounds good.” The memory of taking Peter home to her bed settles into the cracks in her mind like dust.
“I’ve dreamt about you too.”
Peter’s voice comes out of nowhere. It startles Olivia and she knocks a tray of test tubes off the end of the lab bench as she pivots. She hadn’t heard them come back from the zoology building.
Peter and Walter both turn to look at her at the same time, too completely synchronized not to share any relation between them, despite Walter’s denial. Peter takes a step to help, but she holds up a hand. “It’s okay. I’ve got it.” She rights the tray and grabs the broom for the broken glass, and only half-listens to Walter pushing Peter for details about his dream.
“The park on Waterhouse? The one with the ten-foot swings? I’ve always wanted to stop and try them…” Walter loses some of his animation as he considers what such a field trip might entail. “Perhaps the swings were symbolic. It’s theorized that the imagery of a swing is representational of the need to escape. Or possibly a desire for sexual variety. That I was also present in this dream poses some interesting questions.” He stops to consider. “Was there anyone else was there?”
She can feel Peter’s eyes on her as she bends to sweep the glass into the dustpan. Her skin feels as warm as if he’d just touched her.
“Olivia was there.”
Walter turns cool like he does whenever the conversation turns to Peter and his unwelcome influence on this timeline, and on Olivia in particular. “Perhaps this dream picnic of yours is just a reflection of your subconscious’ turmoil. The need to commit… make up your stubborn mind,” he throws over his shoulder on his way to his room.
She dumps the dustpan, tapping the debris out more forcefully than she needs to, grabs the broom and looks up to see Peter still watching her.
“Maybe that’s all it is.”
He doesn’t sound entirely convinced.
Peter corners her in her cubbyhole of an office. Walter had encouraged her to claim it in the early weeks of his release from St. Claire’s, ostensibly to save her the commute to and from the Federal Building. After the first half-dozen panicked phone calls, most from Walter wanting – no, needing to know if she was okay (and when would she be back?), and even a couple from Astrid that time Walter had barricaded himself in the coat closet, Olivia’d put in a requisition for a proper desk and chair and had her landline forwarded. The chair had come, with its mesh back and six-way adjust, but the desk never had. Four years had given her more than enough time to get used to the acreage of the sturdy wooden monstrosity with its yellowed varnish that smelled like church incense and which had probably been installed the same year as the original Dean of Science.
Maybe ‘corners’ isn’t quite the right word; ‘leaning against the doorjamb with his arms crossed’ would be more apropos. It’s the way he’s looking at her, that laser-sharp focus, which pins her to her chair.
She sets her pen down in front of her on the desk and sits back. Behind him she can see across the lab where Lincoln and Astrid are muscling a trolley of file boxes through the door and down the ramp. Even under Walter’s frenetic direction, they’ve got it more than under control. Peter’s not here recruiting reinforcements.
“You told me you’ve never dreamt about me.” Like everything else about him, from his dress shirt with its rolled up sleeves and untucked tails, to the way he’s not quite slouching, Peter’s tone is disarmingly casual. It’s always been his sharpest tool in the interrogation room; it’s why she likes bringing him along, to soften up the suspects. Olivia shouldn’t know that but she does; she can’t explain why.
And that makes her angry.
“Why?” She pushes back from the desk and crosses the room in two quick steps to shut the door. “Why is this happening?” She keeps her voice low, a sharp whisper. She pulls the cord for the blinds so sharply that the slats crash against the window. She sees Astrid look up from her clipboard as they shut. “Everybody keeps insisting that this isn’t real. That these memories are just projections of some other version of me, or some… some vibe I’m picking up from you when you’re near me.” She smoothes a hand over her hair as she paces across the office again. “Then tell me how I know things about you that I shouldn’t? Things we,” she points to him, “you and I… things we’ve done together.”
For the first time, Peter does look away. “I don’t have an explanation for any of this Olivia.” He reaches out, even takes a step towards her, but then changes his mind and leans against the edge of the desk instead. “I wish I did, but I don’t.”
“You don’t even believe me.” She sounds hollow; hell, she feels hollow. Unsubstantial. Untrusted. Everything her brain knows is at odds with what her gut is telling her.
“Maybe they’re right,” he says. “Maybe you are somehow linked into my dreams and I’m putting all this on you. It’s not my intention. I’m not trying to, but maybe that’s what’s happening?” He gets up to leave, hands shoved deep into his pockets. “I’m sorry Olivia, I shouldn’t have brought it up,” he says quietly. He’s got that same curve to his shoulders, that same weariness in his words from fighting the same fight with Walter day after day. Her throat tightens.
All it takes is for her to reach out and touch his sleeve and he stops. Swallows back whatever excuses were on his tongue.
“No.” She knows that if he leaves the room now, he’s gone. Not just for the rest of the day, but gone. Packed his bags, next bus out of Boston kind of gone. “I’ve never dreamt about the park.”
Peter looks up sharply.
She licks her lips. Since he was pulled into their lives, Peter’s never been anything but forthright with them; cagey, perhaps, when he’d needed to get their attention, but as far as she’s been able to prove, he’s been completely honest. If she’s to trust her feelings and her gut, he deserves no less than a bared soul from her.
“My dreams about you were… “ she takes a breath. “Are much more… intimate.” Peter’s face remains neutral; his silence creates a vacuum she feels compelled to fill. Before she can stop herself, or even pause to self-edit, the words come spilling out:
“Last night we were in the kitchen and you took me against the wall,” she feels a rush of heat to her cheeks and glances down at her hands for a moment. “We were washing dishes…pots and pans, the big stuff. We were standing close,” unconsciously, she takes a step towards him. “My elbow kept bumping yours, accidentally at first, but then you kept smiling at me while you pretended to ignore me, so… it was completely juvenile, I know, but I kept doing it to see if I could get you to break, but you just stood there calm as Buddha, up to your elbows in dishwater.”
Peter mouth softens as she speaks. The office walls seem closer, the air more still. She can hear the usual collection of lab sounds just beyond the door: Gene lowing, Astrid reminding Walter to pay attention to his cow. Conversations muted and punctuated by the click and grind of table-top sized machines. In here, they’re insulated from all of that. Intimately cocooned. It makes her feel secure enough to be bold. She takes another step until she’s standing in his space.
“Then finally, just when I thought you weren’t going to crack, you did. You grabbed me like this,” she reaches up, clenches the front of his shirt in her fist. “and you backed me against the counter.” She leans into him, her thigh slips between his, pressing him against her desk.
“And then you kissed me.” She touches her lips to his, tentatively at first, more thoroughly when he doesn’t pull away. He kisses exactly as she’d imagined, as she remembers; considerate and yielding, but not soft, not passive. She draws back, slightly breathless, slightly trembling. She isn’t imagining the catch in his breathing when she takes his hand, presses it palm-open against her breast. “And you slid your hand under my shirt and you touched me, like this.” She clenches her hand over his until his fingers are digging into her skin and her nerves are singing like they’re just picked up a stray electric charge.
“Olivia…” Peter’s voice is thick and low. She parts his lips with her tongue and steals the rest of his words from his mouth. She notes that he hasn’t pulled his hand away either. She nudges her thigh against the inside of his, pushing them apart so her so she fits snug, demonstrating how they’d stood, two pieces puzzled together.
With the hand not still holding his to her breast, she tucks two fingers in behind his belt and pulls the leather free of the buckle. “You had me caught there, the counter top digging into my back, but I didn’t care.” She has to stop for a second to catch her breath. Peter tongue darts out along his bottom lip, quick and pink and so slick along the crease of her hip as he’d… but she’s not at that part of the dream yet. “I didn’t care because – you know how in dreams you just know things?” And here Peter nods, no explanation for that oddity needed. “Something had happened… I don’t, maybe I’d been away for a long time, but I was back, and I was just… I wanted you. I just wanted to touch you.” She skims her palm across the plain of his stomach, feels his muscles contract, then relent. “I needed to touch you, needed to feel that you were still there with me.”
Peter’s hand closes around her wrist. He pushes her hand down, but not away, guides her fingers under the waistband of his pants where she can feel him already half-hard. “You grabbed me,” he says into her mouth and nips at her bottom lip. “You were still teasing, and I wanted you so badly right then. You’d been gone and I’d thought I wasn’t going to see you again.” His voice cracks and he swallows. His other hand finds its way to her neck, fingers comb through her hair as he leans his forehead against hers, not able to look at her just yet, not able to let go of her either.
“Peter?” she brushes her mouth across his nose, dots his chin, the side of his mouth. His fingers tighten and bunch the collar of her blouse. She looks down at their bodies pressed together, her hand held in place by his. She’s not sure how he knows these details, but like in dreams, he just does. “I’m right here.”
He shakes his head. “We’d gone into your mind to find you, but in the end it was you who found your way back. That’s all that mattered. You came back.” He lets go of her wrist so he can touch her chin. Pulls her to him for another kiss. It’s slow and deep and it feels like coming home.
“The first time that night,” he says when they break apart. He stands, and with one hand at the small of her back, the other cupping her cheek, he backs to against the office door with his knee between hers, and this time she truly is pinned. “We never made it to the bedroom.”
“We never left the kitchen,” she agrees, because they hadn’t. It’s been fast and desperate, like a dam broken, water spilling free, and after she’d come, she’d leaned against him, arms draped over his shoulders, legs trembling. Satisfied, but not yet entirely sated.
“You might have dreamt it, but it still doesn’t prove anything.” Peter releases her. He wipes his hand across his mouth and as he backs away. She catches the way he closes his eyes, allows himself to indulge in the memory a moment longer. “Even if I was there.”
“You were.” Olivia’s certain of that. Just as she’s now certain that it was too vivid, too detailed to be only a dream.
“Maybe,” Peter doesn’t look her. “But the question you still keep asking yourself is ‘were you’?”
Olivia moves behind him, slips her arms around his waist until she’s pressed against his back. She feels his heart thudding against her cheek, as wild and racing as her own at this very moment, but still slightly out of synch. “Maybe,” she mouths against his shoulder, “I need you to help me find out.”