A white-hot poison running through her veins, inside her every cell, spilling out of every pore like shards of a personal hell, scorching, maiming.
A constant companion, corpse-cold limbs wound tight around her flesh, shackles under her covers, there every night since she has memory to speak of.
Olivia knows nothing else. She never has (she’s never been given the chance).
There are arms around her. It’s the first thing she notices as she regains her bearings, as the pounding in her head recedes enough for a semblance of coherence, enough for dregs of strained control. It’s warm muscle around her shoulders, familiar hands against her back, robust form towering above her. It’s another set of hands clasping hers, touching softly from fingertips to elbow and back down, a smoothening of feathers that echoes deep inside. It’s a quiet murmur in the back of her mind; a feeling of gut-wrenching worry followed by a soft nudge towards a sea of calm, the white noise a balm to everything that’s raw.
It’s Peter, Nick. Nick and Peter, and she doesn’t know which is which, can’t tell them apart when she’s like this.
Touch is the one thing she never loses, when all her other senses shut down and she’s left bereft of control. Sound is first to make it back.
“She’s not seeing anyone else, Nina,” A harsh voice thunders in the room, “and unless you’d like a future repeat of today’s test results I’d advice you to pick your minions’ approach to fucking torture a little more thoroughly.”
Peter, her ears recognize, the bared contempt coating his tone like splinters under her skin, his hackles raised. She tenses, and he notices, looks down to her unseeing eyes and steps away, turning more fully towards the woman at the door, the red bob cut very much like blood against the stark whiteness of the walls.
“Very well,” she says, titling her head in a show of acknowledgement that is as minimal as it is strange, and easily missed, before she turns on her heel and makes to leave, “have it your way. Janine will lead you somewhere for you to clean up and rest before we resume testing in the morning …and Peter?” she looks at him over her shoulder, “Everything has a consequence.”
Without further ado, she retreats from the room.
Janine, it turns out, is the newest of Nina’s multitude of assistants dressed in an all black, skintight long sleeve – and – a – skirt combo, with a side of killer ten-inch heels. She’s pleasant enough, though she exudes that air of newly manufactured that everything in the building seems to be made out of. She leads them to an office-turned-flat at the far end of the fourteenth floor – all white walls and minimalistic furniture, with a bed and a couch and a big enough bathroom – and Peter thinks he’s never been happier to be rid of something when she closes the door on her way out.
“You need help with those?” Peter asks, pointedly not looking at the girl – the woman – in his arms (bloody and shaking and numb) as Nick starts searching for gauze and disinfectant to treat the wounds the leather restraints left on his wrists as he thrashed. Peter thinks, in the back of his mind, that they must’ve known restraining any of them would take more than some common padded leather cuffs and a locked door. He also thinks the whole thing reeks of Nina’s brand of manipulation, the kind in which those restraints were never meant to keep them away, but to see how far they’d go to get to her.
“No, it’s fine, just…” Nick grits out in a broken voice, “I – I’m not sure I should be touching her right now,” he raises his hands and the shaking is obvious, as is the blistering anger etched in every limb, every straining muscle. He cannot touch her because his touch would only enhance the connection that binds their minds, because Nina’s “consequences” might be ten times worse if they end up incinerating the whole floor, instead of just one man.
“Of course,” he says, understanding, “I’ll take care of it,” of her.
Nick nods, because he knows, because he’s sure that Peter would sooner cut his own hands off than do anything that might hurt them, anything that might put them in danger, “I’ll get an extra towel ready for her.”
He sets her down on the bathtub’s edge, carefully keeping his hands on what patches of bare skin remain untouched by ash and blood and melted flesh, wondering who it was that cleverly designed their medical testing – experimentation, torture, etc. – outfits to be white, because fucking hell, he wants to kill that man for his stupidity.
(White tank, white loose pants. And blood, always blood on them)
Peter reaches behind her, opens the tap, sets the shower as warm as it’ll go before turning scorching hot and lets the water run. He takes her face in his hands, tilts it up a fraction to make her meet his eyes. He brushes a stray lock of hair behind her ear, away from her forehead, where it’s fallen from the tight ponytail she favors more and more often nowadays. Peter’s half-glad for her previous disorientation, knowing that he’d never live down his little show of male protectiveness had she been fully conscious.
“Hey,” he says, when she looks fixedly at him, unblinking and with eyes as dark as sin.
“Hey,” she answers, and her voice – her voice, both velvety and rough, and one-hundred-percent erection inducing – is strained, exhausted.
“Let me go get something to clean you up and I’ll be back in a second, m’kay?”
Olivia nods robotically, and there’s still something wrong in there, like she’s not fully present, like she’s locked herself away with bolt and chain somewhere inside. He can’t even feel her, not at all. Peter sighs as he straightens, tries to keep the anger at bay; they’ve all been here before.
He returns with the towel Nick set on the kitchenette’s countertop for him, the man himself busy still as he scavenged for food of any kind in the mini-fridge, his wrists bandaged. There’s a final ‘click’ as he closes the door after him, and he pads barefoot towards her, having already left his shoes and socks by the couch he plans to sleep on.
She’s hunched on the spot, hugging herself, sight locked on the damaged reflection that meets her when she looks at the mirror ahead, and Peter wishes that he hadn’t left her alone for that second, that he could break the glass right then and get away with it, that he could give her a normal life, the kind every seventeen-year-old should have, instead of this world of horrors where the monsters can’t be chased away (they are the monsters, all three of them).
Her head swivels up tiredly as he steps between the mirror and her million-miles-away stare, his left hand pulling her to stand as the right throws the towel under the running water, and he wastes no time in asking for permission before he slips his hands beneath her tank. He drags the material up and away, is met with pale skin he knows well, freckles he’s traced and retraced as she slept, keeping as much contact between his hands and her skin as he can without outright groping (it’s common knowledge that his touch calms her down, somehow), and hopes there are enough prime numbers out there for him to count in his head as he reaches the swell of her breasts.
Olivia raises her arms without issue, lets the shirt fall to the ground, and Peter curses the goddamn wardrobe department one more time for making shirts with built-in bras. Look-but-don’t-touch is man’s greatest punishment, he’ll bet on that. And it’s not that he hasn’t grown used to seeing her naked from way back, that’s something that comes attached to having lived together for close to ten years and counting, or that he hasn’t felt her – all of her – many times, whenever casual sex is on her mind and he’s within grabbing distance, but asking the part of him that is still an eighteen-year-old male to be unaffected (looking unaffected is really no problem at all) is like telling a shark not to bite. Peter fixes his eyes on a small, vaguely crescent shaped scar on her hip and he counts.
The drawstring holding her pants low on her hips is easily untied, the fabric pooling around her ankles, and she braces her hands on his shoulders as she steps out of them, looking expectantly at him with an unfeeling stare that he wants to wipe away like the ash on her skin.
He slips his fingers under the hem of her underwear and shakes his head, chiding himself for missing the ever-present storm of her mind rubbing up against his own.
Olivia shivers slightly. There’s a chill in the room, and it has nothing to do with the weather. She feels fragile, easily damaged though there’s nothing left to be broken, and she wants his hands on her skin to make her feel something, anything, just as much as she wishes she could feel nothing at all (not even this emptiness spreading in her chest).
The soaked towel is soft on her skin, the cloth dragging slowly, cleansing, soothing. Peter starts with her right hand, cleans every finger, circles her wrist, her elbow, then shoulder, his free hand trailing behind, moving over clean flesh with a tentative caress. It’s the mere whisper of a pianist’s touch and gun-callused fingertips, only moving away when he bends down to rinse the towel in the running water behind.
And it’s better than Valium, better than a smuggled glass of Jack before bed, though she’ll never tell. She knows he does it on instinct, and is thankful for that. She doesn’t think she knows how to ask.
He goes over her clavicle, up her neck, her forehead, her cheeks and nose and chin, his eyes focused and electric blue as they flit across her features. He wipes down her left arm, her hand, returns to her chest without looking up from the scar on her hip that he’s using as a distraction (though she can tell from the bulge in his pants that it’s not working half as much as he’d like), while running his hand down the expanse of her breastbone where skin stretches tight. He’s easy to read, to her if not the rest of the world, and she knows his every expression the way she knows Nick’s and her own. And she honestly doesn’t know why he’s embarrassed about it, it’s a natural response, and it’s not like they haven’t fucked before.
It would be amusing (only a little), if she could find it in herself to feel something other than this hollow, like they split her open and took whatever it was that she still had inside.
Peter kneels down then, his knees popping, the towel trailing over her hipbones, gently brushing over her lower stomach. She doesn’t know what it is that he’s cleaning off her skin anymore, as he towels her legs, but she can feel the towel’s warmth and his hands, and she stops caring before long.
She’s still halfway gone, not really present at all, like there’s a distorted window separating her from the world, a glass pane bent and melting and cracking in places, that keeps her from absorbing her state and the things she’s done, the things to come for them all, because of her. The only thing that’s real is his hands on her holding her steady in place, and the dripping wet towel’s weight scrubbing the filth from her skin, marking paths of want and desire left orphaned in his wake, filling the empty spaces between bone and flesh (and she wants to laugh because she knows he doesn’t mean for this to be erotic at all, and it’s all she can think of).
He turns her around, rinses the towel for the hundredth time, and does her backside from the bottom up: the back of her calves and thighs and ass, the dip of her spine, her back and the nape of her neck, tracing every muscle with care.
“What did he do to you?” he murmurs, so low it’s almost out of earshot. She doubts it’s her he asks, and she resists the urge to tense up and move away. She wants to feel good. She wants to feel something. Maybe just be human a while, though she doubts she’ll ever know what that’s like.
By the end of it, he’s standing with his chest to her back, the towel forgotten at her feet, and she can feel the even thumping of his heart against her vertebrae, his hands on hip and wrist.
“Are you alright?” he asks, louder, and she knows that he knows it’s a stupid question to be asking.
“I’m fine,” she says, turning sideways to press her flank against his chest in an effort to absorb the heat radiating off his figure, to feel his chest rise and fall and his heart beat, to make certain he’s as real as her.
Peter sighs again and lets his shoulders slump, “what do you want me to do?” he asks, and his voice is gruff.
Olivia looks at him, and truly sees him for the first time that night. His brow furrowed, the line of his mouth determined as he clenches his jaw with what remains of the anger that should’ve been hers, the one the fire had extinguished with a blast. He hasn’t shaved in days, and there’s a bruise blossoming like a half moon on the sharp edges of his left cheekbone, surrounding storm-blue eyes and blown-wide pupils, obviously the remnants of a fight she wasn’t there for. It dawns on her that she has no idea where he’s been these past couple of days, remembers that Nina had had him tracked down to wherever he was to make these new set of tests a reality. She needs to remember to ask him later on.
She kisses him.
She goes about it naturally, moving her lips against his like it’s another part of everyday routine. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a reprieve, she tells herself, and the voice in the back of her mind sounds much like his. Peter pushes back a little, his gaze searching her face for something in it, something that he either finds or stops looking for as he returns the kiss, meeting her move for move but never giving more than is his due.
It’s the thing about Peter: Olivia has never been sure why he lets her drag him between her legs if he’s so reluctant, so disgusted. He’s always tense, always measured and in control, and Olivia can tell without having to read his mind (even if she could), that fucking her is one more thing he has to do every so often, just like the tests and the jobs and their little charade at school. She doesn’t know why he doesn’t just say no and leaves her to find Nick or someone else, someone who has no idea who or what she really is. She can, she’s done it before. She wouldn’t resent him. After all, who in their right mind would ever want a broken science fair experiment as anything other than a childhood acquaintance, a coworker, perhaps even a friend, when generous?
But he’s never objected to her advances, and he’s one of the only two people she trusts (she doesn’t trust herself), one of the only two people she can be Frankenstein’s monster around and not worry about compromising her cover or butchering a mission. He touches her in all the right places, and as long as he’s willing she’s not complaining.
And then he pushes her down to sit on the edge of the tub, parting her legs to kneel between them and do wonders with towel and mouth, and Olivia stops thinking for a change.
“Oh, I hate you,” Nick groans into his pillow, panting wetly against the bed covers as he feels Peter’s mouth working at her (or at him, or both of them? He really can’t tell if he closes his eyes) in perfect definition.
Why the fuck do they always do this with him in the next room? They both have to know that he can feel every single fucking thing, besides being able to hear the unmistakable sex noises over the sound of rushing water through the thin bathroom walls. And he usually doesn’t mind, and he really thinks they’re made for each other and should stop being stupid and make all the babies they can never have from now till the literal end of the world and all that, but god fucking damn them all to hell, he really wants to go to sleep now, so would they please stop?
No, he didn’t think so either.
He’s gonna need the tissue box for this one.
“Next time,” Peter moans, shoving her into the ceramic covered tub with a well placed thrust of his hips, “we’re using a bed.”
He’s still wondering why he’d pushed her backwards into the tub knowing he’d never fit in the damned thing instead of using the floor, but there’s nothing to do for that now except hope that his legs don’t suddenly cramp up in the middle of it as he kneels with his feet against the wall (and he’s done a whole lot of kneeling today), propping himself up with a hand against the other edge while Olivia scrabbles for purchase against his back, her long, long legs air-tight around his waist as she struggles for some traction against the wet white ceramic at her back.
Olivia whimpers in response, and clenches tight around his cock, biting hard on his shoulder and making him miss the rhythm with a hiss that’s half pleasure and half pain, the water raining down on them stinging on the raw imprint of her teeth, and he’ll take that as a yes.
She’s going to kill him. It’ll be a soft, wet, velvety death and he’ll be happy to go to whatever hell is worse than this one with the memory of it to keep him company at night but, for the moment, she’s going to kill him and he’s going to enjoy every single second of it because, knowing her, it might never happen again.
(He half hopes it doesn’t, not like this, when the only reason she’s writhing underneath him is because it’s either him or Nick and he’s the one currently within her reach – her approach as natural and unfeeling as that of eating and drinking and sleeping because she disconnected sex from intimacy long, long ago – but then he reminds himself that romantic notions of any sort are to be taken hostage and executed at the smallest sign of disobedience, and he stops hoping for anything at all. This is what he’s got, and he can live with that).
Peter finds her lips and parts them with his own, attacking her mouth with tongue and lips and teeth as he reaches blindly for the soap with his free hand. He brings it down to drift across the multitude of well-balanced shapes that make her, over neck and breast and hip and thigh. It makes the spaces between them slippery, facilitates the undulating motion of her hips, and Peter bites down on his bicep to stop himself from broadcasting to the whole of Massive Dynamic just how good she feels. The soap bar thuds imperceptibly somewhere on the floor after a while and he washes buds away with roaming hands and shaking fingers.
“More,” she orders in his ear with a gravelly voice and nails digging purposefully on the swell of his ass, and he complies, grabs under her knee, pushing slightly forwards, folding it towards her to change the angle, thrust sharper, deeper, her hips meeting his with the precision of a well choreographed stunt.
They don’t need more than that, the constant rocking and unrelenting friction enough to make her fall apart around him after a while, and he finds himself dragged along without so much as a ‘by your leave’, a ‘thank you’ or a ‘please’, but he’s fine with that. The look of not-quite-affection on her face in that second before she comes is more than enough to keep him up for weeks on end, and that is more than he ever hoped to get.
They’ll go back to camaraderie in a few minutes time, when they’ve both regained their breath and Peter finds the strength to push himself off her, but for those few minutes he’ll get to feel her heart race against his own, her arms around him, fingers playing idly with the curls at the base of his neck, and he’ll wish for the moment to go on indefinitely.