Chapter 1: I. BROKEN LINE
Her fingertips are almost featherlike upon the palm of his hand.
Eyes closed, Peter follows their journey through sensation alone, as she traces what every book on palmistry would call his ‘fate line’.
He may not be a believer in that sort of things – or any sort of pseudo-science, he still has a knack for reading whatever book crosses his path; he’d occupied a solid week of his life as a freshman in high school reading everything the local library had to offer on ‘divination’. Not that he had any inclination toward the topic itself, but by the age of fourteen, he’d long been bored with lessons and his teachers’ inability to challenge his mind.
While his classmates struggled with what he thought were utterly simplistic math concepts, Peter had read up on the art of storytelling. All of it sounded like bullshit to him, but he retained enough of it to know what the woman sharing his bed eight years later is doing to his hand.
She continues her examination in silence, eventually stopping by pressing her thumb onto a spot in the middle of his palm. She speaks, then, a phrase he doesn’t understand at all. After spending the past few months moving through various parts of China, he’s acquired a passable knowledge of both Mandarin and Cantonese, and can decipher basic sentences in a handful of other dialects. His recent arrival in Tibet has brought him back to the most rudimentary forms of communication, though.
This lack of proper conversation with most of the people he meets never bothered him; when it comes to lovers, he actually prefers it that way. The absence of discussion makes it harder for them to get attached to one another. He can spend several nights a week with the same girl, learning her body and all the right ways to make it quiver and fold, they will still part as strangers.
That’s how things are with Lhamu. She speaks some Mandarin, as well as some English, but she prefers her natal Tibetan. She has eyes the color of ebony, and a skin so soft that touching it with his hands feels almost indecent, his own skin callused after weeks of labor work.
She doesn’t seem to mind the roughness, as he tends to be quite tender when and where it matters, and the lack of dialogue never stops her from letting him know what she wants from him. In truth, she seems rather fond of his hands, which is undoubtedly what led her to explore them the way she is, now, following the creases that mark his skin.
She repeats her phrase again, pressing once more into his palm, and Peter opens his eyes, turning his head to meet her gaze. She brings their hands up, both of hers holding up his own, until they hover over their heads. She traces the lines on his palm again, slowly, before focusing on his life line. She presses on that same spot, speaking the same words.
“You have broken life,” she eventually says in English. “Look,” she insists, having switched to Mandarin.
Peter lowers his hand, bringing it closer to his face, squinting to see what she’s trying to show him in the dim moonlight. At first, he can’t see anything, but her soft fingertips follow the line again, until he finally sees it.
There, in the middle of his life line, is a small gap.
Frowning, he unwraps his other arm from around her, bringing his second hand up to compare it; he’d read enough on the subject to remember there is some sort of significance to unusual markings being present on both palms.
Sure enough, the gap is there, too.
“What does it mean?” he asks, first in English, then in Mandarin. He doesn’t believe in these things, but this small yet very real gap on both his life lines makes him uneasy.
“Serious illness or accident sometimes. Early in life, here,” Lhamu caresses the gap again. “Bad things, big changes when you were child. Yes?”
Peter looks at their hands, her softer yet darker skin contrasting upon his, before shaking his head. “To be honest with you, I don’t remember enough of my childhood to confirm or deny it.”
Unconsciously or not, he’s used words he knew she couldn’t understand, not bothering with a translation of any kind, as his muddled childhood is extremely high on the list of topics he avoids at all cost. When he turns his head and meets her eyes, she’s raised both her eyebrows in question, maybe expecting him to try and say it in a way she’ll understand.
He shakes his head instead, offering her his trademark smirk, dismissive. She lets go of his hand to cup his cheek, staring, not smiling back. She says something in Tibetan, then, quietly. He doesn’t understand either, except for the soft roll of his name, and the underlying message.
‘I know you’re hiding, Peter, and I’m starting to see you,’ is what he hears.
That’s the trouble with lovers; even without proper communication, if he sticks around one night too many, there always comes a time when he’s bared too much of his soul, and they begin to see through his many layers.
They never get more than a glimpse, though. He always makes sure of that.
This is his warning sign, his cue for him to leave.
He’ll be gone before the sun rises.
“A penny for your thoughts?”
With a small start, Peter refocuses on his surroundings, his eyes shifting from the small gap on his palm he’d been scratching with a nail. Looking up, he meets another set of dark eyes, Lhamu’s face already drifting back to whatever place distant memories always drift back to.
He hadn’t realized his waitress had come back – Krista, she’d said her name was; she’s already done refilling his mug. Like the two previous times she’d been at his table, her gaze is sharp and intense, and there’s a twinkle in there some dormant part of him recognizes alright.
It’s been a while since he really flirted with anyone, or has felt tempted to do so. He’s not that interested tonight either, but he’s lonely. He’s spent the past couple of weeks on his own, his conversations limited to short exchanges with motel managers as he pays for his stays.
Ten years ago, he’d thrived on that kind of lifestyle, content to be a lone-wolf making his way from town to town, interacting with people only when he had to or felt like it. After spending over eighteen months in constant company, however, his brutal return to solitude is turning out to be harder than expected.
That, and everything else.
There’s something about that girl, too. She oozes confidence, and genuinely seems to enjoy chatting up whoever enters the diner –him in particular. She barely blinks when she looks at him, and maybe that dormant part of him isn’t so dormant after all.
Dark hair and brown eyes, she also happens to be exactly his type.
Peter lets his lips stretch in a small, cocky smile he’s used many times before, and decides to give it a go. “I was thinking about the importance of particle colliders in the matter of time displacement.”
Choosing to go with the genius – slash – smartass line has turned a few ladies away in the past, but on the whole, experience has taught him that being bold is rewarding.
Krista raises an eyebrow with a smirk of her own. “Is that so? Are you really that smart, or are you just showing off by quoting something from Doctor Who? Because I gotta tell you, I’ve seen every episode, you won’t fool me for long.”
Peter’s smile broadens, his own interest piqued. “You’ve got good taste,” he concedes. “But yeah, I’m afraid I’m that smart. Although it can be argued that being brain smart doesn’t keep someone from being an idiot.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” she says, not losing a beat. “You seem alright to me so far, and like you said, I’ve got good taste.”
Apparently, he does remember how to flirt.
Peter loses the cocky grin, his smile softening. “To be honest with you, I’m more than a little surprised. Nicely surprised. I didn’t expect anyone from this part of the States to be familiar with Doctor Who.”
Krista leans a bit closer, lowering her voice in a conspiratorial tone. “Don’t tell any of my regulars, but I’m not really from Noyo County.”
Well, if they start discussing their origins, Peter is fairly certain he’ll trump anything she’s got. “Yeah? Where are you from?”
“Here and there. You could say I moved around a lot when I was a kid, my dad was–”
“Krista, table 3’s order’s up.”
Although she stopped mid-sentence, she doesn’t even turn to acknowledge her boss, merely waving a hand over her shoulder, her eyes still on Peter’s. Unblinking. “So, have you decided on what you’d like to eat?”
His smile turns a bit sly again, eager to push away any thought of her moving around a lot as a kid, as it reminded him a bit too much of someone else he will not think about. “Bring me a slice of your favorite pie.”
Eight minutes later, she comes back with a slice of pecan pie. By the time she leaves his table again, he’s got his first date in over a year.
That one failed attempt in Boston a few weeks back really doesn’t count.
Ever since he left Boston, two weeks ago, Peter has given himself plenty of reasons to explain why he’s still in the country, when two years ago, he would have been long gone within days.
He doesn’t have the money; he needs to update his fake passport; his back still bothers him. All reasonable lies.
The money and the passport, he could have resolved within a week if he made the right calls. As far as his physical pain goes, well, it wouldn’t be the first time he traveled while a bit banged up. The truth is, even if he’s moved as far away from Boston as he physically can without taking a plane and leaving the country, having officially entered Washington State the previous night, he still cannot bring himself to leave.
He’s done enough soul searching during his long drives this past fortnight to understand what motivates his decision to stick around. A lot of it has to do with the fact that, no matter where he runs to, no matter the miles he puts between himself and his former life, it won’t make the slightest bit of difference.
No matter where he goes, he is and always will be off, quite literally out of sync with this universe.
But not tonight. Tonight, he’s pretending to be a normal thirty-two-year-old man, as he drowses off in his motel’s lobby, slumped on the couch.
He’s waiting for Krista here, since he didn’t give her his full (pretend) name. Meeting in the lobby instead of in his room is also less...complicated. It certainly lowers expectations on both sides.
A past version of him would have gone back to his room after leaving the diner, to shower and attempt to create some ‘ambiance’, making sure it was favorable to romance – as much as this could be romantic. That version of Peter did not exactly make real connections, but he was charming enough to know how to make the connections he needed.
That, and his mother had raised him not to be an asshole. Well, she’d tried.
But that version of him is long gone. Dead, actually, just like the Peter from this world, or his mother from this universe. Both of them are rotting in the ground, while he got to prance around for an extra two decades.
So no, Peter doesn’t go back to his room, doesn’t shower, doesn’t even check to make sure the couple of condoms he’s got in his wallet haven’t gone past their expiration date. It’s been a while.
When his phone begins to vibrate in his pocket, the way he knew it would, he doesn’t move, doesn’t even open his eyes. It rings once, twice, three times, four times. Then silence. No message.
She never leaves any.
He forces himself to keep thinking about Krista, because she’d liked his eyes.
He thinks of Krista, brown eyes, brown hair, and a sweet smile, wishing that the prospect of what could still turn into a one night stand was as appealing as it would have been eighteen months ago. God knows he could use it. It’s been a long while; months, actually (almost years, plural), a fact that doesn’t make him nervous at all, obviously.
Truth is, he feels like crap.
The caffeine he drank back at the diner has already left his system, and his chronic sleep deprivation causes him to feel slightly delirious as he drowses, filling his head with images that are oddly vivid. At first, he tries controlling what he sees, tries to imagine what it would feel like, to seek some comfort in this stranger’s arms, something he used to be very good at.
But after his phone vibrates, his mind turns on him, the way it always does.
Before long, it’s changing brown hair into blond, chocolate irises into golden green, and what was supposed to be a warm fantasy becomes an aching need that is as familiar as it is inherent.
When Peter falls asleep, he only dreams of her.
“Peter, you don’t have to do that.”
He doesn’t look at her, still crouched on the ground, busy picking up the biggest pieces of her broken lamp, putting them in the bag; he’d waited until she was seeing the officers out of her apartment to go get one from her kitchen, aware that she would never allow him to stay if he asked.
“Walter’s plans for us tonight is to watch ‘Gone With The Wind’,” he replies, keeping his eyes and focus on his task. “I like my classics, but believe me, I’m in no hurry to head back there.”
He feels Olivia’s gaze on his neck, fighting against the near–magnetic pull of it that makes him want to turn around and look at her. This is the only way she’ll let him help her: by not giving her a choice, while making it sound like she’s rescuing him from some dreadful fate by letting him stay.
Eventually, he feels her moving closer to him, her movements quiet and subdued. When she lowers herself to crouch at his side, a waft of smells reaches his nose; there is a tangy, sweaty hint of fear and adrenaline that has overpowered whatever deodorant she uses, also accentuating that scent of hers. Unfortunately, it’s a smell he’s come to recognize, as this is not exactly the first time he’s by her side shortly after one of her near-death experiences.
And yes, he does hate that he can think of it as a regular occurrence.
There used to be a time when that particular smell wouldn’t have made his throat dry up and his heart beat yet a little faster, very much aware of her proximity. Not much he can do about it; he’s used to ignoring the different ways she affects him physically.
He wants to take a real look at her, see how she is, but she’ll kick him out if he starts fussing over whatever injury she sustained. They work in silence instead, finishing clearing up the remains of her lamps, before moving on to the other room to take care of her broken table.
Officially, he stayed to do just that –help her clean up the mess she and James Heath made. Unofficially, he stayed for her, worried by the somewhat glassy look in her eyes, and a quietness that seemed excessive, even for her.
Silence never used to be a bad thing between them. Those quiet moments often meant a variety of things, but until recently, he’d never known silence to be so awkward.
Ever since that brief lapse of judgement in New York, when they could have kissed but hadn’t, interacting with her has been like walking on eggshells; except that these eggshells are bombs that can only be turned off with your mind (hers, specifically), and where any one of them blowing off meant having her retreat farther and farther away from him, until it eradicated any progress they’ve made these past six months.
It’s been less than two weeks, yet he feels like she’s slipping away with every passing day.
He’s become quite good at reading her and her body language, but he finds himself at a loss as to what to do to keep her from shutting him out completely. He’d hoped that his speech about not wanting to compromise their little ‘family unit’ would ease her concerns, but her silence and tense demeanor tonight says otherwise.
He meant it, though.
Just months ago, he’d learned what it felt like, to lose her. He’ll do just about anything never to experience that feeling again. She’s the closest friend he has, the closest friend he ever had, and if keeping her in his life meant burying his feelings for her, so be it.
She’s worth the heartache.
His good intentions are nicely put to the test the next time she gets up. She must have done so a bit too quickly, and whatever head injury she suffered might be worse than he thought, because she loses balance as she raises to her feet.
Fortunately for her, Peter’s reflexes are good, standing back up and grabbing her shoulders within seconds, while she shakes her head, trying to blink the dizziness away.
“You should sit down,” he says, sternly.
She shakes her head again, in negation this time, eyes closed. “I’m fine.”
Irritation and worry flare up in his chest. He’s come to almost despise those two words coming from her. “Liv –” he starts with a hint of impatience, before stopping himself.
She’s reopened her eyes at the use of the nickname, both aware that he’s never done so before. She doesn’t seem bothered by it, though, curious more than anything else, her eyes slightly blurred from her recent dizzy spell.
He’s still holding on to her shoulders, using this opportunity to give her a better look over. When his eyes travel back to her face and stop on the red mark on her forehead, a bruise already blooming beneath the skin, he sighs in frustration.
“Peter,” she protests, aware of his focus. “I’m f–” But she’s cut short when he brings his hands to her face, his fingers gentle as he makes her tilt her head this way and that.
He’s noticed that she’s stopped breathing, but he pretends not to notice when she lets the air out a bit shakily.
“How did that happen?” he asks, matter-of-factly, genuinely worried now, keeping his eyes on her bruised forehead, hoping it will help her relax.
“Uhm,” she says, before clearing her throat, letting herself be examined. “Front door. He slammed it in my face.”
Peter sighs again, finally stopping his inspection, but not yet taking his hands away from her, bringing his gaze back to hers.
She’s not unaffected by his touch and proximity, which makes her awkward behavior even more puzzling.
“What’s your sister’s social security number?” He asks her, more softly.
She blinks up at him, before breathing out the string of numbers with ease.
“Why?” She asks then, frowning a little.
“Just making sure your brain’s still working properly.”
Her frown deepens. “You don’t know my sister’s SNN.”
He gives her a cocky smile. “I do now.”
Her face begins to soften, then, as she offers him her first real smile of the evening, if not of the week, the kind that reaches her eyes and soothes her worry lines. The kind that causes his insides to ache. It’d been a while since she’d let him see this side of her, almost miraculously drawn out tonight.
And then, the softness is gone, replaced by something else. That same something else that’s been pulling her away from him these past two weeks, ever since Massive Dynamic.
The way they’re now standing is almost identical to the way they stood, back then. And just like she had that night, when she averts her eyes, her gaze moves down, lingering on his lips.
It takes all of his willpower not to pull her to him.
He lets her go instead. Because he’d told her he would not jeopardize this.
Olivia seems a bit taken aback by the sudden distance between their bodies, her eyes now cast to the ground, a deep blush creeping up her face.
“I’m gonna go,” he says softly. “I’ll call you in a couple hours, to see how you’re feeling.”
She merely nods, not even protesting, and that alone tells him she’s already retreated, the way Olivia does.
Two weeks ago, he would have offered her to join their movie night. Two weeks ago, she might even have accepted. Two weeks ago, they wouldn’t have been avoiding each other’s eyes while silence settled uncomfortably between them.
But that was two weeks ago. Peter doesn’t understand what’s going on, but he understands enough to know when not to push.
After all, he’s still number three on Olivia Dunham’s speed-dial.
As long as she keeps on calling, he will keep on coming.
In the seventeen days since Peter left Boston, he’s received sixteen missed calls from Olivia Dunham.
And that’s not including the few that followed his immediate departure.
She calls every night, sometimes a bit early, sometimes a bit late, but she calls. His phone vibrates, until the call is sent to voicemail, at which point the device goes silent again. She never leaves a message.
Technically speaking, if he’d behaved like a proper fugitive, he would have ditched his phone on his way out of the hospital. Technically speaking, he would have gotten rid of his credentials as well.
Yet again, if you’re being finicky about this, technically speaking, Peter shouldn’t be alive and in this particular universe, so really, technicality can go fuck itself.
The point is, he still has his phone, and Olivia has been using it to try and reach out to him, while he ignores her. By now, he doesn’t know if she’s really expecting to talk to him, or if she’s just checking to see if his line is still active. Not that he cares either way.
On his first three nights alone, which he’d spent cloistered in a motel only twenty minutes away from his old house, he’d not only nursed his broken (trust) back, but quite a few bottles of bourbon as well.
As a personal rule, Peter had always tried not to get shit-faced when feeling miserable, a side-effect from having spent most of his formative years looking after a depressive mother with a small drinking problem; he’d learned first-hand that it never solves much of anything. He’d found other ways to escape his own brain and reality, like the rush of the con. Pretending to be someone else altogether worked pretty well for a while.
Until recently, the only other time he’d gotten drunk out of misery in the past ten years had been after watching Olivia fly through the windshield of her car and lie presumably dead on the pavement, before being told she was indeed brain-dead.
Obviously, she does not have the best kind of influence on him. Refusing to talk to her is wise.
He doesn’t want to talk to her.
He doesn’t want to talk to her, doesn’t want to think about her, and he certainly does not want to feel anything for her.
When his back had stopped hurting enough for him to be able to sit behind the wheel of a car, he’d spent most of the following nights driving, as well as sober, sleeping during the day – or trying to. He’d ignored all of her phone calls then too, telling himself he did not care.
He did not care, he did not care, he did not. Care.
Unfortunately, when you spend most of your waking hours driving, it gives you an unlimited amount of time to think about all these things you don’t want to think about. While his feelings for Olivia certainly aren’t on top of the list of fucked up things he’s been brooding over since the bridge, she’s occupied his mind.
Peter refuses to think about her, yet he thinks about her every goddamn day. Partly because she calls every goddamn day.
He’s well aware that he not only left Walter when he left Boston. He also left her in the midst of an impending universal war. After spending so many months acting as her support system, he’s more than a little conflicted about it all.
At least, his unexpected involvement with the Noyo County’s police department turned out to be a good distraction. Now that he’s done as much as he can for them, though, it’s time for him to pack up and go.
He doesn’t get far.
In all honesty, Ann Mathis has had enough with the FBI.
She wants to be left alone, to sit by Bill’s hospital bed without any more interruptions, waiting for him to regain consciousness. The past couple of days have been the most insane their county has known in years –decades, even. She hadn’t had to deal with that kind of fear since her early twenties, and could have done without the reminder. Unfortunately for her, the day isn’t over.
The FBI agent is back; the blond, surly one.
She’d come knocking on that very door three hours ago, all business and seriousness, brandishing her badge, along with a stern expression that did not appeal to Ann’s kinder side.
It did not get better when the agent swiftly told her she’d been informed that Peter Bishop had assisted them with their investigation, and that she wanted to know where he could be found now, thank you very much.
Ann had stared, briefly distracted by the old man at the other end of the hall, who’d accosted a nurse carrying a tray, apparently inquiring about pudding. He seemed jittery, and within three seconds, Ann knew he wasn’t exactly...there.
“Is he with you?” she’d asked the agent.
She didn’t even glance at the old man, merely tilting her head. “Yes. That’s Walter Bishop.”
Ann had narrowed her eyes. “I see,” she said. In the past few hours, she hadn’t given many more thoughts to Peter Bishop, more focused on Bill than anything else. “How did you find me, exactly?”
Another sharp tilt of her head. “I work for the FBI,” she said. Then, maybe sensing Ann’s growing irritation, or simply remembering local cops didn’t respond well to that kind of haughty attitude from the bureau, she added, more empathetically: “I understand that your partner was injured, and I’m sure you want to go back to him. We’ll leave shortly, I promise. I just...I need to know where we can find Peter.” Another pause. “Please.”
That had been the first crack in the woman’s sullen mask, a hint of desperation in her eyes, before she covered it all up again. Ann was no FBI agent, but like she’d reminded Bill a day or so ago, she’d always been a good judge of character.
Whoever this lady was, she and the old man had something to do with why Peter Bishop had been moving from motel to motel under assumed names. From what little she’d learned about him in the past two days –and that wasn’t saying much, he was very good at covering up his tracks, making himself untraceable.
For all intents and purposes, Peter was still a stranger. But he’d helped her find and capture a serial killer, not to mention saving Bill’s life in the process. She owed him a debt no pen could ever repay, not even the expensive kind with profound life mottos written on them.
Ann had a gut feeling that whatever decision she made in regards to this FBI agent and ‘Walter Bishop’, this was the universe giving her the opportunity to repay it.
She almost told the younger woman that she had no idea where Peter had gone –which was the honest truth. Hours had passed; he had to be in another state already. In another county for sure.
But who was she to crush this person’s hopes, when hope was all she herself had left, only hours ago?
“He was staying at the Northwest Passage motel, under the name Gene Cowan,” she found herself saying. “I doubt he’ll still be there, though. He seemed eager to leave.”
There was another crack in the woman’s mask –relief, as if she hadn’t heard Ann’s last sentence, followed but another sharp nod and a pinch of her lips. “Thank you,” she’d said, and her tone was honest, as was her gaze. Then, she was gone, walking away briskly to collect Walter Bishop, who was still arguing with the nurse about pudding.
Fast forward three hours, and the FBI agent is back. Alone.
Ann doesn’t even step out of Bill’s room, standing her ground in the doorway as she looks up at the other woman; she’s used to looking up at people, thanks to her size, and has long ago developed the glare that lets them know size isn’t everything.
She has very little patience left for Clarice Starling right now, and the agent senses it.
“I’m sorry,” she says with a brief shake of her head and an odd smile –odd because it’s sad? “I know I said I would leave you alone but...I was hoping you’d have a minute to talk?”
Ann glances inside the room, looking at Bill, still unconscious, the beeps of his heart monitor slow and regular. She turns back to the woman in front of her, studying her more carefully. One thing she notices is that she’s dropped the ‘Agent on a Mission’ demeanor; she mostly looks tired and discouraged.
She’s reminded of Peter on their last interaction today, when he’d let go of what was left of his cocky, misunderstood, smartass attitude, and had let her see a glimpse of who he was. Kind of.
“I don’t know who I am anymore.”
And again, Ann’s instincts tingle, adding two plus two together much faster than Peter had, when he’d deduced she and Bill were more than just partners.
She steps out of the room, closing the door behind her, eyeing the other woman. “What did you say your name was?” She asks, more amicably.
“Olivia,” she says. “Dunham.”
Ann nods, still studying her “When was the last time you ate, Olivia?” They can do without the formality of titles and last names; the other woman definitely isn’t here for professional reasons.
Olivia looks taken aback by the question, shrugging in response.
“Come with me,” Ann says with a tilt of her head toward the end of the hallway.
She leads them to the cafeteria. Ann gets herself a sandwich, while Olivia reluctantly picks one single cheese stick after Ann practically orders her to get something. As they sit down at a table, she gives her a better look over. Hospital lights are known for being unkind to people, considering most of them aren’t in their best states, physically and psychologically. This is no exception.
Like Peter, Olivia Dunham looks like she hasn’t had a good night sleep in weeks. Even though they’ve barely said five sentences to each other, there is an air of sadness that surrounds this stranger, a loneliness that feels too familiar to Ann, hitting home.
They’re both cops. They don’t need to talk about the obvious, about the fact that if she came back here after three hours, it means Peter was indeed already gone when she reached the motel.
“I don’t know where your friend is,” Ann says, kindly enough. “He clearly didn’t mean to get involved in our investigation. His collaboration was more accidental than deliberate.”
Olivia nods that fast nod of hers, not meeting her eyes, playing with the wrapping of her cheese stick, which she has yet to open. Even though she’s the one who wanted to talk, it’s clear she won’t say much of anything unless prompted.
And so, Ann prompts.
“How long have you been searching for him?”
In other words, ‘How long has he been running from you?’
Olivia raises her head, meeting her gaze, and giving her another sad smile. “Seventeen days.”
“I see,” Ann nods slowly, understanding her disappointment.
Given what she’s seen of Peter’s skills, this had to be the closest they’d been to finding him in almost three weeks. Now that he’s vanished again, and after he’d found himself grudgingly involved with the authorities, they wouldn’t get another chance like this in a long time –if ever.
“Miss Dunham, I don’t mean to sound rude, but why did you come back here, exactly?” Ann cannot help but ask. “You knew I wouldn’t know Peter’s next destination, and anything you’ve yet to ask me, I’m sure you could have asked over the phone, saving yourself another long drive.”
Nod nod on the other side of the table, one of her nervous hands briefly coming up to her face, as if to wipe her nose. Ann seriously hopes the woman is more confident when on the line of duty because right now, this is just painful. She’s clearly struggling to express herself in any way.
“I just...wanted to know how he was doing,” Olivia speaks to her cheese stick.
She definitely could have asked her that over the phone. But after all, Ann knew within five minutes that she’s not searching for a colleague, or even just a friend.
Peter’s reluctance to bring the FBI into their investigation makes a lot more sense, too. It had little to do with compromising his chances of ‘getting answers’, and more to do with making sure this specific FBI agent didn’t show up.
Ann thinks about her answer, unable not to feel kind of sorry for Olivia. She had to really like this guy, to be so desperate for crumbs of information that she’d fly across the country, then drive back and forth on Noyo County roads while sleep deprived, just to talk to the last person who’d interacted with Peter.
Heck, the woman’s practically counting his absence in hours.
“He was...helpful and resourceful,” Ann offers, tentatively, and Olivia looks back at her. “He definitely seems to be going through some kind of life crisis, right now, his behavior verging on the paranoid. He was convinced the whole case was about him, when it really wasn’t. If you ask me, it looked like he’s been hurt, and now, he’s just trying to cover it up. I guess you’d know more about this than me.”
Olivia bites down on her lip, her eyes once again cast down. They look too bright in the harsh neon lights.
“Hey,” Ann calls softly, until their eyes meet again. Her face is pale, yet her cheeks are slightly flushed. “I don’t know you, you don’t know me, and I can’t really say that I know Peter either, or that even knows himself, from what little he’s told me. But it’s obvious the two of you have some unresolved business. He can’t have gone that far. You should call him.”
Olivia gives a vague shake of her head, pursing her mouth in a tight, one-sided smile. “I tried. He doesn’t want to talk to me.”
Ann frowns. “M’okay,” she says, dubious, before elaborating: “Again, I’m probably out of line here, but...if you really believed that, that he wants nothing to do with you, you wouldn’t have come all the way out here.” Olivia looks unconvinced, but Ann once again feels a strange sense of responsibility toward Peter, for saving the man she loves. “Give it an hour or two. Go back to whatever motel you’re staying at tonight, and try calling him again.”
Although this earns her another sharp nod, Ann knows from Olivia’s body language that this ‘conversation’ has come to an end.
They get up, saying their goodbyes without sharing another word, all in looks and tilts of the head, Olivia Dunham soon stepping out of the cafeteria and of her life, leaving her cheese stick on the table, unwrapped.
Shaking her head, Ann pulls out her phone without giving it much thoughts, searching for the number she added in there a couple days ago.
When she goes back to Bill’s room a few minutes later after a short phone conversation, she’s back just in time to see him starting to stir, waking up at last.
Ann guesses this is the universe’s way of thanking her for paying it forward.
One of the things I hated about Fringe was how much it made me care for random characters of the week. Ann Mathis is up there. I do believe Northwest Passage is a grossly underrated episode.
Chapter 3: III. MIND OVER MATTER
“Could you at least call someone to collect you? I’m not comfortable with letting you–”
“No,” Peter cuts his doctor off, not bothering to look up. His voice remains lower than usual, more hoarse, too, the way it’s been since he woke up, strained in part by pain, but by anger as well.
He feels the woman’s eyes on him as he fills in his paperwork, apparently hoping her stare will have more effect than her words. What she doesn’t know is that Peter has long been immune to glares of that nature.
When you spend most of your life being a disappointment to people, you tend to collect those a lot.
He ticks a couple more boxes, before closing his eyes shut, swallowing back a grunt. His hand cramps up around the pen, his fingers shaking too much for him to sign properly.
His physical discomfort is getting worse by the minute, but he will not back down from his decision to leave. He’ll spend the next three days prostrated on a bed in a motel outside of town if he has to, but he’ll escape Boston before the sun rises.
When he reopens his eyes, his shaky hand drops the pen and reaches for his phone (as if he wouldn’t have felt it vibrate).
Once again, it only shows him the time of night – almost 3am.
When Walter left his side, a few hours ago, Peter half-expected Olivia to reenter the room. These expectations hadn’t been high, but they’d been real. Until now, he’d never thought of Olivia Dunham as being a coward in any way, shape, or form, quite the opposite.
In the aftermath of his confrontation with the man he’d called dad only days ago, though, both her silence and avoidance filled him with such a strong feeling of dejection and treachery that the term ‘cowardice’ definitely crossed his mind a few times.
Waking up from this little fantasy of his he’d entertained for months, thinking he’d found some solid ground here in Boston, maybe even a family, hurt like hell. It went so far beyond the past year and a half, though.
His whole goddamn existence was a lie.
In the blurred, seething hours that follow his harsh return to reality, Peter’s emotions towards everything that made up his life these past eighteen months do such a back-flip that Olivia’s decision to stay away is probably wise. While he could bear to see heartbreak all over Walter’s face and even use it to fuel his anger, he doesn’t possess the same resilience when it comes to her.
When he’d woken up, she’d barely started to show signs of discomfort at his cold stare that he was caving in, smiling at her as if nothing was wrong, even as his heart fractured a little more in his chest.
He only has himself to blame for being so weak. He more or less spent the last year and a half making sure he would never be a source of anguish to her, if he could help it. She dealt with enough bullshit as it was, in both her professional and personal life; what she’d needed was a friend, someone who looked out for her. Someone who cared.
And boy, had he cared.
Somewhere along the way, he’d fooled himself into believing that she cared for him, too.
Just not enough to let him in on the most important secret of his life.
Surely, she was going to reach out, though, once she talked to Walter and realized he knew, to explain herself at least, make up some excuses. She would never beg for forgiveness, obviously, that wasn’t her style.
If anything else, he thought he deserved some kind of recognition for his services, as FBI consultant, if not as close friend and confident. He might kick her out of his room again, or hang up on her, but at least it would show him she cared, in some twisted way.
But as the hours passed and his anger and pain grew, Peter remained alone in his room, his phone silent, his aching, overloaded (heart) brain his sole companion.
Even now, as he swallows back the stomach acid that has risen in his throat and makes himself sign the discharge papers, he’s too angry to fully grasp what it all means, beyond obvious revelations like childhood trauma, or the unwitting role he played in his mother’s suicide just by being here, mixed with the sudden loss of everything that had made up his life in recent months.
While Peter easily ignores his doctor’s subsequent protests, he gladly accepts the painkillers she proscribes him. He’s popped three more pills by the time he exits the hospital.
Two hours later, he’s already well on his to drunk in his motel room when his phone vibrates at last, and Olivia’s name flashes on the screen.
Ever since they’d met, he never once ignored one of her calls, even the ones she so often made at ungodly hours of the night.
He always answered, because knowing Olivia, answering her call could very well be the difference between life and death – her life, as well as her death.
Within the next thirty minutes, she calls five times.
He ignores every single one of them, eventually turning his phone off altogether.
Whatever window he’d left ajar for her, she had missed her chance.
Sleeping has never been an easy thing to do, for Peter.
Falling asleep isn’t the issue; staying asleep is the problem.
Even during the ten years he spent freed of nightmares, he would still regularly wake up in the middle of the night, shaking, drenched with sweat, heart racing, although unable to remember what visions plagued his dreams; a small consolation.
Please don’t dream tonight. Please don’t dream tonight. Please don’t dream tonight.
Only a few months ago, Peter told Olivia how helpful this mantra had been, taught by a seemingly well-meaning father. What he’d failed to remember at the time was that back then, Walter had been adamant about his son learning to control what he saw (or did not) when he slept.
Even now, the barrier that exists in his subconscious is too strong for him to remember anything of the kidnapping itself, or of the following months. Nor does he remember any of the seven years that came before that.
But he does remember Walter checking on him every night, after he’d admitted being terrified of being pulled away in his sleep, by some monster that might hide under his bed.
Remember your mantra, son, Walter would say, never leaning down to kiss him goodnight anymore (had he ever?), offering him a smile that may have appeared warm to some, rarely to Peter. Mind over matter. If you will your mind to obey your wishes, you’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish.
And it worked.
At least, until his mother killed herself, at which point his brain decided that, fuck your mantra, he was going to have to deal with some of his locked-up emotions.
But if Peter was good at anything, it was at willing his mind to obey his wishes.
Mind over matter.
Throughout the following decade, he moved around enough, and gave
himself plenty of distractions, so that sleep happened when it happened, and if
he was having a particularly rough week, well, he could always find himself a night time companion to help him fill the dark hours before sunrise.
Back in Boston, things were different.
Oddly enough, despite the horrors he saw every day, he had very few nightmares. The main problem had been being allowed to sleep through the night; most people put their phones on vibrate at night in order to ignore potential callers.
But to Peter, the sound his device made as it
shook on his nightstand had become louder than any ringtone, Olivia’s name the
first thing he saw upon awaking at 2 or 3am (his favorite night time companion).
He’s not sleeping well, these days.
When he does fall asleep, he dreams of cold water, and wake up shaking, drenched in sweat, heart racing.
He thinks he might go to ocean, next, follow the coast all the way up to Canada.
As it turns out, Peter doesn’t even make it thirty miles west of his last motel in Noyo County when he decides to stop, too bone–tired after the events of the past few days to drive one more minute on those damn, sinuous roads.
He falls asleep the way he always does; fast. He’s awoken the way he often is; even faster.
His phone is vibrating.
He’s confused for a moment, aware that it’s too early for his daily round of ‘let’s–ignore–Olivia’.
Almost against his will, he picks up the buzzing device. When he sees the name on the screen, though, all traces of sleepiness leave him, still feeling involved enough for worry to sneak back in at once.
“Hello?” He answers as he sits up.
“Hey Peter, it’s sheriff Mathis.”
“What’s going on?”
“Nothing, nothing serious anyway, but I thought you should know I had an interesting visit today. Someone’s looking for you.”
His brain might still be a bit muddled, as it immediately jumps to hasty conclusions, adrenaline quick to flood his blood.
“Newton,” he almost growls.
“Uhm, no,” Mathis replies, sounding slightly judgmental at this dumb assumption. “Female, blonde, five-feet-eight, carries a gun?”
His breathing halts for a second as he processes her words, his heart speeding up even more than it had at the thought of Newton.
“You talked to Olivia.”
“I did,” Mathis confirms. “Twice actually. In person. She went looking for you at your motel, then came back to see me upon finding you gone.”
Peter remains silent, already understanding that Broyles must have spilled the beans. Granted, he never specified he shouldn’t tell Olivia where he was, but he thought it was obvious enough, considering he’d called him instead of her.
“What did she want?” He asks, his voice lower; colder, too.
“What do you think?” Mathis retorts.
“I think that if she flew all the way to Noyo County to try and find me, it must be pretty bad. You may want to say goodbye to your loved ones.”
That was unfair, on both Olivia and the woman he’s speaking to, he knows it the moment the words leave his mouth.
“First of all, that’s not funny,” Mathis tells him, and there’s reproach in her voice, rightfully irked by his attitude now. “Second of all, I don’t know you well enough to pretend I understand what happened to you, or why you’re acting the way you are. What I do know though is that if the FBI wanted to contact you, they would have done it already, so why don’t you stop feeling sorry for yourself for five minutes, at least long enough to let that girl talk to you. Unless you really think she flew all the way across the country because of her job, in which case, she’s probably better off.”
Peter sighs, cornered. The truth is, he doesn’t want to think about Olivia coming after him for reasons other than professionals, because it doesn’t match the picture of her he’s painted in his mind over the past three weeks. Her phone calls, he can excuse easily enough, but this...not so much.
After a silence that stretches for long seconds, he hangs his head, defeated, before speaking again, his voice softer, having lost its sharp edge. “How was she?”
But Mathis will have none of it. “Uh uh,” she refuses. “I’m not doing this with you, too. If you want to know how she’s doing, ask her yourself. And by the way, ‘If we call the FBI, they’re gonna descend on this place and these people will disappear’? It’s a good thing you did find Ferguson on your own, Bishop, because that was one lame, selfish, and cowardly excuse not to have your girlfriend find out where you were.”
“She’s not my girlfriend,” he hears himself say.
“Sure,” Mathis says, matching his sarcasm now. “She’s just your partner, right?”
And she hangs up on him.
When his phone begins to vibrate again, a couple of hours later, Peter stares at it, still debating with himself, the way he’s been for the last one-hundred-and-thirteen minutes.
Mathis had said just enough to make him crave for more.
She’d talked to Olivia.
She’d seen Olivia. Twice. Which is quite a lot more than he had, these past seventeen days.
And now, she’s calling.
He’s still mad at her.
He also misses her.
Scowling at himself, Peter picks up the phone and accepts the call before it goes to voicemail, bringing the device to his ear.
At first, there is only silence.
He knows the exact moment she realizes the line has stopped ringing and is actually open, hearing her sharp intake of breath.
Another second goes by, then two, three...
She breathes out his name more than she says it. And yet, she says it, in that damn way of hers.
Peter closes his eyes, his stomach sinking as his heart thumps beneath his ribs. He swallows hard, forcing himself to breathe in deeply, in the hope that he will sound more composed than he feels.
“Hey,” he finally answers, failing. His voice is too low, and there’s already a lump forming at the back of his throat.
And then, more silence, although they’re not completely quiet either.
She’s breathing too fast, the sound of her respiration perfectly audible, and she probably hear his, too. She doesn’t say anything, though, and it could almost make him smile, how she’s tried calling him every night relentlessly for two and a half weeks, yet didn’t think much about what to say if he ever picked up.
There’s also the fact that she’s, well...Olivia.
No matter what happened, what grudges he may (or may not) still hold against her, some fundamental facts jump to his mind: Olivia isn’t good at this. Olivia retreats and shuts down when put in a vulnerable position.
Olivia is never going to be able to say whatever she wants to say over the phone.
Peter runs a hand over his face, already kicking himself for what he’s about to say, but the truth is, he’s been doomed the moment he heard her voice again.
“Where are you?” he asks, his tone more polite than kind.
“I’m...we’re at the Northwest Passage.”
He doesn’t miss the way she corrected herself, and he clenches his jaw, feeling the all too familiar anger constricting his chest. “Walter’s with you.” It’s not a question.
“Yeah,” she breathes out again. “Couple of rooms down from mine. He’s...sedated, I guess.”
Another stretch of silence follows as Peter debates with himself once more, and Olivia probably does the same on her end of the line, trying to work up the nerves to say more than two words to him.
She doesn’t, which is really all the persuading he needs.
“Which room are you in?” The question is unambiguous, and by the way she breathes in too sharply again, she understands what he’s implying.
“Uhm.” There’s a pause. “Four.”
Peter recognizes the room number as the one he had occupied the previous night, and somehow, he highly doubts this is a coincidence. He can picture her blushing, now, caught in the act of missing him more than he’d let himself think she might, and he feels the corners of his mouth twitch.
He’s picturing her too well, sitting tensed and uneasy at the edge of her bed, hair down, jacket off, otherwise still in her typical work attire. With her eyes closed, her face might even be slightly scrunched up in embarrassment.
He sees her in his mind’s eyes, yet the image is somewhat blurred, as if details he used to know by heart are already starting to fade.
In almost two years, they’d rarely spent more than a handful of days apart from each other.
When they did, they’d stayed in touch, especially these past six months, one of them always checking on the other, their phone conversations never lengthy, but genuine enough.
Even on those few occasions when she’d deliberately tried avoiding him, the way she had during the weeks that preceded his departure, they’d still seen each other on a daily basis, part of each other’s life, for better or for worse.
Spending eighteen hours a day with someone for twenty odd months, then nothing at all for nearly three weeks...
God he misses her.
“I’ll be there in an hour.”
Chapter 4: IV. TO THE UNTOLD
Peter's palms are clammy when he knocks softly on her door, swallowing past the lump in his throat so he doesn't have to do it in front of her.
All of his efforts become futile once Olivia opens the door, and their eyes meet for the first time in weeks.
Time stretches as they stare at each other. For a moment, any resentment he's felt since the bridge is kept at bay, almost sighing in relief, because he has missed her, and she's in front of him again, within his reach, with these eyes of hers holding his.
She's moving, then, stepping aside to let him in, averting her eyes as he comes inside. He keeps his gaze on her as she closes the door. She takes a few steps away from him, putting distance between them, maybe in the hope that it will help settle the heavy tension already crackling in the room.
Before long, her eyes are back on him, and the next few seconds are spent taking each other in, the way only two people used to being around one another every day can, quietly trying to gauge what effects their time apart had on the other.
His mind didn't trick him; she's almost exactly the way he pictured her, still wearing her work trousers and blouse, minus her jacket and her shoes. The main difference with his mental image is her hair, which isn't down but held together in one of her loose braids. She also seems...smaller, somehow. Maybe because she's not wearing any shoes, or he's simply reminded of their height difference.
His focus soon goes back to her face, taking in her tensed traits, the circles under her eyes, her pale skin. She's too pale. A few other images drift in his mind, memories of times when she'd looked too ragged, one of them being the few days that had followed her killing of 'Charlie Francis'.
She's more than a welcome sight, though, always most beautiful to him when she's at her most human.
Already, his body is reacting to her proximity, his breathing shallower than it was minutes ago, his heartbeat managing to gain more speed, fighting the urge to move closer to her just to be closer.
These moments of quiet observation don't last, their gazes soon meeting again, easily starting one of their wordless conversations.
Guilt is already taking over her every trait, and that's all it takes for his hurt to become front runner in the mess of emotions fighting inside of him. He's missed her, and seeing her again is painfully comforting, but he cannot just pretend nothing's happened.
She's done enough pretending for the two of them.
The thought is bitter, and it burns at the back of his throat. Her face somehow manages to lose what little colors had risen in her cheeks upon his arrival; she's sensing the return of his resentment, seeing it as well. He's not covering it up, tonight.
They still haven't spoken, and at this point, it's getting ridiculous.
Peter comes to the rescue, reaching inside his jacket. He pulls out what he'd wisely decided to bring along, holding out the flask for her to see. He'd procured the alcohol around the same time he'd procured his weapons – one of which is tucked in the back of his pants.
At the sight of the bottle, he thinks he sees the corner of her mouth quiver, but she doesn't smile. With her arms tightly crossed in front of her chest, she's in full Defensive Dunham mode.
"You wouldn't happen to have a couple of glasses lying around, would you?" His tone is falsely congenial, and it does nothing to ease the tension, somehow making her stiffen a bit more as she shakes her head.
He knew there wouldn't be any. He'd stayed in this very room the previous night; this motel is as cheap as it gets.
"Oh well," he shrugs, still in that same chipper voice. "We'll make do." He opens the flask, before holding it out to her again, as if to toast, almost an inside joke between them by now. "To the untold," he says with his fakest grin, before taking a swig of the liquid.
He watches her as he drinks, notes the way she seems to physically recoil at first, his low blow hitting home. One of her hands briefly goes up to wipe the corner of her eye with a knuckle. Her demeanor begins to change, though, her guilt turning into something else.
When she brings her gaze back to his, her eyes are blazing, and the way she glares at him burns more than the liquor tracing its path down his throat.
"You're mad," he points out, when he's done swallowing. While his voice has lost its ridiculous, friendly edge, now lower, it reflects his slight surprise. Very slight surprise.
Given the chance, Olivia will turn any of her emotions into anger.
True to herself, she's not overly obvious about it either. And, true to herself, when he daringly holds out the flask again, she does not back down.
She takes a couple of steps closer, her face set, her cheeks pinker, offering him her best glare. "Am I supposed to be pleased?" She finally replies, grabbing the alcohol from his hand. She does not step back. "You left, Peter," she says, as if she was scolding a misbehaving child. "I've spent the last three weeks running after you, when for all we know, the Other Side could be about to open fire on us. Not exactly the best use of my time or resources."
His irritation sparks up at once, clenching his jaw as his entire body tenses. "Spare me the lies," he says, his voice low. "You and I both know I was never crucial to the Fringe Division. The fact that I turned out to be at the center of this damn war can't even be that important either, considering you've all decided to keep me in the dark so, don't lie," he repeats. "You owe me that much."
She can't hold on to her anger for long, after that. It's gone as quickly as it flared up. She averts her eyes, looking at a point past his shoulder, her breathing too shallow as silence stretches once more.
And then: "You left," she says again. Her tone couldn't have been more different, though, her words quiet, and hurt. Accusatory.
But at last, she's being honest.
When she brings her eyes back to his, his own irritation has faltered. "You lied," he replies, as honestly, the pain her betrayal caused him clear in both his tone and demeanor.
She pinches her lips together, her cheeks flushed, although the rest of her face remains too pale. Unable to hold his gaze, she looks down at her hands, as if just now remembering the flask he'd given her. She brings it up, taking a swift mouthful he knows won't feel good going down – just like his choice of motels, the alcohol is cheap.
Sure enough, she grimaces as she swallows, shuddering almost violently.
"How long did you know?"
She licks her lips, something he tries not to focus on. "A few weeks," she answers, eventually, her voice lowered by the alcohol.
A few weeks.
Considering how much time he's had to think it all over since he left, he'd figured out she must have learned about his origins around the same time she became awkward around him. Around the same time his 'father' became depressed. Hearing her confirm it does not make him feel any better.
He can tell she's hurting from her own deception, from the pain it caused him, still too attuned to her emotions, to all the little ways it affects her. This is what happens when you spend months learning to read someone as withdrawn as she is.
And that knowledge of her hurts him, too.
It hurts him and angers him, because he feels like an idiot, like a fucking fool, having been so afraid to do anything that might push her away, always careful and patient; she'd meant too much to him to risk jeopardizing their friendship. And for what?
"You saw the glimmer, didn't you." He's not even asking, his voice thick with anger and hurt. "That night, in New York, with the building. That's why you started avoiding me all the time, isn't it? I've been shining like a Christmas tree ever since?"
Olivia tenses even more, not copping well with his anger. She'd seen him pissed off before, his trademark mood in the early weeks of their partnership, but it'd been a long time since he last talked to her that way.
Hell, he'd become as threatening as a fucking puppy around her.
She holds her ground, though, shaking her head. "It's not always there," she admits, quietly. "Only when I'm scared."
He didn't expect her to be honest. The fact that she is does nothing to soothe him, aware of the way her eyes dart around him, then, seeing something invisible to him. His heart sinks, feeling more disturbed at the thought of the glimmer than she probably is at the sight of it.
This is her gift, her curse. She sees things that do not belong to this world, things that should not be here.
"Am I glowing now?" He asks, already knowing the answer.
"Peter," she tries with a shake of her head. Not in denial, though.
"Am I?" He demands, his voice booming in the small room.
She visibly flinches, instinctively taking a step back from him, her eyes to the ground.
"Yes," she breathes out.
He really didn't need her to confirm it. Her body language nothing short of screams 'fear', in all these little ways he wishes he could hate. What he feels couldn't be farther from hate, though, his anger draining out of him, realizing what he sounded like.
He's sickened by the fact that he can instill that kind of dread in her.
"You don't have to be scared," he says, his voice hoarse. "You know I would never hurt you."
She brings her eyes back to his, shaking her head again, barely, lips pinched. "It's not that kind of fear," she says, quietly.
He holds her gaze, swallowing hard. "What kind is it, then?"
Olivia stares back, her eyes welling up. She doesn't answer, of course, managing another small shake of the head, her lips stretching in a pained smile.
Truth is, she doesn't need to say it; he knows what she meant. He's known it for a while, or at least suspected it, that what he feels for her, she feels it, too.
But this guttural certainty did not match her recent actions. And he learned early on that Olivia's actions often speak louder than her words.
She had kept Walter's secret. She had lied to him.
"You should have told me."
He says the words quietly, his voice thick. He doesn't even sound reproachful, and somehow, it's worse. There is nothing left of his anger; only pain.
I trusted you, is what he's telling her.
She hears his silent accusation, her face constricting, causing a couple of tears to roll down her cheeks. She wipes these traitorous trails off with a swift hand, before going back to holding on to her elbows.
"I know," she whispers to the ground, soon bringing her eyes back to his. "I'm sorry."
His insides ache at the sight of her tears; such a rare occurrence. It does not feel good, knowing he's responsible for them.
Yet again, her actions often speak louder than her words.
"Why didn't you?" He asks, because if he doesn't, she won't say anything at all.
Small shrug, not in indifference, more in apology. "I wanted to," she admits, ashamed. "But I thought..." She shakes her head. "I guess I knew you'd leave if you learned the truth, and I just... wasn't ready to deal with that outcome."
He stares at her, perplexed. She's blushing again, unable to hold his gaze.
"You decided not to tell me I was stolen from another universe because...you were not ready to deal with that outcome," he repeats. Her blush darkens. When he scoffs, she looks back up at him. "This has to be the most selfish thing I've ever heard you say."
She becomes defensive again. "I never claimed to be selfless."
She certainly had not. "No," he concedes. "You just act like it."
She takes the blow, looking away, biting down on her lip. When she meets his eyes again, she seems worn out. "Fine. I was selfish. I acted...irrationally. I broke most of my own rules on integrity and trust. I agreed to keep your father's secret, because it benefited me."
"That man is not my father," he replies at once, his anger quick to resurface at the thought of Walter.
Olivia tilts her head, as if to say 'Come on.'
"You should have let him explain why he did it," she says. "If you knew the whole story–"
"I don't need the whole story," he cuts her off. "I figured it all out, remember? His son died. He crossed over to the other universe, stole me from my family, from my world and my life, because he couldn't cope with his grief. How am I doing so far?"
Judging by her expression, pretty well.
'And all of this for what?' he wants to ask. The trauma of being kidnapped was intense enough for him to forget everything from his childhood before the age of eight, but he remembers the subsequent years all too well.
Walter, consumed with his work, descending into madness. His 'mother', consumed with what he now knows to be a poisonous mix of guilt and grief for her dead child, having to raise this stolen version of him who only got angrier as he got older.
"You would have died, Peter," Olivia says, her voice thick.
But he doesn't want to hear it.
"Did it ever occur to you that maybe I was supposed to die?" he replies, not doing any better. "That if the Peter from your world died, it was meant to be my fate, too? He shouldn't have intervened, crossed the lines he crossed, just to save me. I wasn't his to save. This world would be better off if he hadn't, there wouldn't be–"
Peter has to stop, the lump in his throat making it impossible for him to continue. He closes his eyes, fighting against the sudden burn of tears, shivering with pain.
In two and a half weeks, this is the first time he talks about it, about all these things he realized were his fault, a direct consequence from him being here. All these deaths they investigated this year alone. Charlie's.
He reopens his eyes, startled by her proximity. She's moved, now standing very close to him, close enough for him to touch.
"What Walter did...it's unacceptable," she says, her voice low. Her eyes are reddened and bright, but like her tone, they are fervent as well. "I'm not going to tell you you have to forgive him. Believe me, I get it. But you're not responsible for what happened because of it. You were just a boy. And even if you're not anymore, it doesn't make it any more your fault."
If he hadn't felt so miserable, he would have called her out on her hypocrisy.
Olivia Dunham, telling him he's not responsible for what Walter did to him as a child. She, who's always so quick to carry the whole damn world on her shoulders, believing herself to be accountable for everyone's safety except her own, because that's the burden that was forced upon her at age three.
But he's unwilling to listen to what she's saying, to think about the similarities between his situation and hers.
It doesn't change anything.
"Olivia," he says, his voice constricted in dejection, wishing he could explain the extent of his homesickness, convey the depth of his sorrow, feeling like he not only was betrayed by his family, the entire universe abandoned him. "I don't belong here."
I don't belong in your world.
He doesn't know how to deal with this truth. With the knowledge that beyond the fact that he's been traumatized and lied to his whole life, he comes from the enemy side, from a place they all abhorred and distrusted for months.
He comes from the world that sent these shapeshifters over, these soldiers who among other things tried hard to kill her, who murdered her partner and forced her to shoot a monster in his skin.
He was born in the very world she was made to hate, by the cortexiphan in her brain, and in retaliation for what it took from her.
Olivia is hurt by his words, the ones he spoke, and the ones he didn't need to, her brow furrowed, her eyes brimming with tears. She shakes her head, imperceptibly, with another pained smile.
"Yes, you do," she says, very quietly, and he closes his eyes, shaking his head. "You do, Peter," she insists. "You've helped save so many lives, these past two years, people we probably wouldn't have been able to help without you. Look at what you did here, this week. You saved another man's life, because you were in the right place, at the right time."
Look at what you did here, this week.
Looking for a way out, his brain latches on that statement and discards the rest. For the first time since he talked to Mathis, he thinks about what Olivia's presence in Noyo County means, professionally speaking.
His eyes roam the room, soon stopping on what he knew he would find.
"You've read Mathis' report," he says, bringing his gaze back to hers, successfully changing the subject.
A blush is creeping back as she averts her eyes. "I wanted to know how you got involved in this case," she says, her voice quiet and low.
He remembers giving that statement, a couple of days ago, explaining to Mathis how he'd come to be one of the last persons to see Krista alive. That report must also state that his alibi had been confirmed, that he'd indeed spent the night in the lobby, waiting for Krista to join him.
The untold hang in the air, the tension somehow thickening. They can't even discuss it.
Olivia will never ask him if he's spent the past couple of weeks fooling around, and he's not about to tell her that no, he did not sleep with the girl who was murdered that night.
What Peter feels then is the strangest kind of irritation and frustration. He should not have to justify himself.
She might think she knows enough about what kind of guy he was before they met to imagine he would get back at her by fucking his way to Washington State, but more importantly, she knows what kind of person he is now. She must be aware that he dated about as many people as she did in the past eighteen months – meaning no one.
They'd never committed to one another, but the commitment had been there anyway. Unspoken, yet binding.
He feels it, under his skin, in his bones, feels her.
Here she stands, close enough for that scent of hers to have invaded his lungs, looking almost small under the weight of her guilt and insecurities, yet too proud to ask, and it hurts.
It hurts to breathe, it hurts to be, because he loves her. He's loved her for so long he feels like he's loved her his whole damn life, which makes no sense at all, yet here he is.
In the wrong world, in love with a girl he was never meant to meet.
She'd been his closest friend, yet she'd betrayed his trust out of fear, convinced he would leave her if he learned the truth. Because that's what her experiences conditioned her to believe, the way his experiences conditioned him to run.
What she'd failed to realize was that his hasty departure and seemingly indifference to her calls were a direct result from hers and Walter's deception.
"I would have stayed."
He speaks the words quietly, but the silence in the room is so thick, he could as well have shouted them.
Her breathing hitches, as she raises her eyes to meet his, almost cautiously.
"If you’d told me," he continues, in that same voice. "I would have stayed for you."
Her eyes are filling with tears again. She's so close. Her gaze drops to his lips, darkens, comes back up.
"Will you come back?" She murmurs, as if afraid to speak the words.
Slowly, he brings a hand to her face, unable not to, swallowing hard when he feels her lean into his touch.
But he cannot go back. He cannot face Walter, face all these evidence of a life he'd built upon nothing but lies.
When he shakes his head, barely, Olivia's face constricts, a few more tears escaping.
"I'm sorry..." She says again, breathing out the words, averting her eyes as tears begin to come more furiously, burning the skin of his palm, and he hears the words she doesn't say.
I'm sorry I failed you.
This, her standing shaky, scared, and defeated in front of him with his hand on her face, this is New York all over again.
And something breaks inside of him when he realizes that she thinks he's rejecting her.
When she tries to move away, her breathing loud and distressed, he refuses to let her go. His other arm comes around her instead, pressing his hand into the small of her back as he tightens his hold on her face, pulling her closer, until they're forehead to forehead, nose to nose, feeling her wet skin against his own.
He breathes in her next wobbly exhales, before breathing out her name against her parted lips with the slightest hint of reproach, because how could he be rejecting her?
They remain almost completely still, one of his thumbs caressing her cheek, while the other one caresses her lower back through her shirt, breathing the same air; he feels her progressively relaxing against him, her tears stopping, as she lets herself accept the fact that he’s not letting her go.
More than that, he’s pretty sure his need for her is seeping out of his pores, now, and he senses her responding to him, their body language changing, their dialogue wordless yet unambiguous.
They don't move, at first. And then, they do.
She's pushing as much as he's pulling, feeling her fingers reaching for his nape as his lips find hers. And again, they stop, simply returning the pressure for a moment, more a seal than a kiss, bodies shuddering.
He hears a low thump when the flask she was still holding hits the ground, her free hand slipping inside his jacket to come rest on his side, soon clutching the fabric of his shirt.
Even when they lessen the pressure, creating a space between their lips to breathe, she doesn't release her hold on him. She tightens it instead, her hand leaving his nape to better wrap her arm around his neck, fingers curling in his hair. And he feels that same upward push again, as he imitates her, wrapping his arm around her waist to press her to him and reclaim her lips, his own fingers sinking into her hair.
This kiss is slow, and deep; inevitable. She tastes of the ocean, first, salty, and fathomless. He tastes the remains of his liquor, then, bittersweet, and smoky.
Soon, it's only Olivia he's tasting, and he drowns into her more than ever would in any sea.
She feels too good to be real; not just the press of her against him, but the way she holds on to him, moves into him. Slow down, and go...slow down, and go...slow down, and go...
When her hand pulls at his shirt to gain access to his skin, slowing down becomes speeding up, the feel of her nails raking his back doing more to him than her tongue against his own. Before long, he feels her grab at the gun tucked at the back of his pants. She punctuates her discovery with a bite, nipping at his bottom lip just hard enough, and he lets out a low groan into her mouth.
She pulls the weapon out of his waistband, pulling away from him as well, enough for their eyes to meet. She looks down briefly to inspect the gun, checking if it's loaded – it is. She's flushed, her gaze dark and hazy; even with her cheeks glistening with vestigial tears, there's a definitive hint of Agent Dunham in the way she soon stares at him, half-questioningly, half-disapprovingly.
"Do we need to talk about this?" She asks, her voice husky, with an edge of concern.
Peter hasn't changed his mind and still believes he did see Newton all over the county, but he doesn't think he can manage intelligible sentences at the moment, their bodies joined at the hip, his heart busy pumping most of his blood away from his brain – something she's well aware of, considering the way she was swaying against the evidence of it a minute ago.
He shakes his head, swallowing hard. "Not now," is all he says, leaning down to recapture her lips, because he's waited too damn long for him to let this turn into another Fringe conversation.
But Olivia evades his attempt, pulling away a bit more by using the hand that had been in his hair to push against his shoulder, looking more agent–like by the second. "Peter," she protests. "I've read that report. If Newton is after you, then I need to call Broyles. This might be our only chance to –"
She never finishes her sentence.
He pushes her quite roughly toward the bed, until she's falling upon the mattress with him on top of her, swiftly using her surprise to his advantage, slipping a thigh between her legs to apply a deliberate pressure against her. With his forehead upon hers again, she gasps inches away from his mouth, her fingers back in his hair, nails digging into his scalp.
"Later, ‘Livia," he almost growls, slowly but decidedly rolling the entirety of his body into hers, feeling her shudder almost violently, a similar tremor spreading through him. "Just drop it."
He meant the gun, but she gets his point.
Always the trained agent, she does not simply 'drop' the loaded weapon on the floor, wriggling and stretching in his arms so she can put it on the nightstand instead, next to her own gun. He uses her outstretched position to redirect most of his focus on her neck, diving, breathing in that intoxicating scent of hers, before nibbling at the tense skin.
Another rasp escapes her, her whole arm slipping inside his shirt to grab at his shoulder-blade as he continues his rocking motions, soon replacing his teeth with his lips and tongue.
And again, he's consumed with the feel, smell, and taste of her, aching to be inside of her, his body so deprived on a sheer carnal level that it doesn't seem to register the fact that they're both fully dressed, imitating the act despite their many layers, acutely aware that she's moving along with him.
In between the rolls of his hips, he finds the helms of her blouse near her waist, his impatience making him pull at the clothe with no restraint, until the buttons pop, one by one. He moves his head from the crook of her neck to look at her.
Olivia is already heaving under him, her pupils wide, her cheeks a dark pink, messy hair having escaped her braid, a vision that makes him throb painfully inside his jeans. She doesn't let him stare long, both her hands reaching for his face and pulling him down into a hot, scorching kiss.
He's spent months fantasizing about this, about her. About touching her to insure she was real and alive, kissing her to erase any worry line from her skin, pleasing her to relax her very soul.
Loving her because he could.
And these weeks of longing are what guide his hands and dictate his every move, roaming the newly exposed skin of her chest; goose-bump erupts under his fingertips, feeling her muscles twitch, her breathing hitch, until he's unceremoniously pushing the fabric of her bra up to access the soft flesh of her breast. Her nipple hardens against his palm as he massages her, soon putting his thumb to work.
She lets go of his lips with a gasp, and somewhat freed from her hold, he uses this opportunity to descend on her again, entrapping the sensitive knob in his mouth. He sucks and twists, before flattening his tongue and pressing down, running over it, fast, then slow...fast, then slow...fast, then slow...until her back is leaving the bed, arching into him with a loud moan, and he slips both his arms around her to keep her pressed against him as he focuses on her other breast, as deserving of his devotion.
Both her hands are on his jacket, grabbing at it unsuccessfully, trying hard to pull on the rough fabric. "Peter," she pants. "Your clothes."
He knows what she wants, what she needs. She craves for that skin–to–skin contact as much as he does. Yet again, it's been months, and the most arrogant part of him, that part that is very good at holding on to a grudge, isn't about to just give her what she wants.
What he wants is to watch her squirm, to feel her break against him.
He's drawn quite a few more throaty moans from her before his tactic changes, lulling her into a false sense of security, always the con artist. He relaxes his muscles and relinquishes his holds on her, feeling her do the same. He pushes himself up, kneeling between her legs, before grabbing her arms to help her sit up. She follows, getting rid of her ruined shirt as his fingers lose no time and find the clasp of her bra. He unbuttons her pants just as quickly while she throws her bra aside.
She's quite a rousing sight, her hair almost completely out of her braid now, long strands draping her skin, a skin that is flushed deep, deeper across her heaving chest, courtesy of his truly. Nothing quite surpasses the pull of her gaze, though, capturing his eyes as soon as they travel back to her face.
And Peter lets himself be pulled, cupping her cheeks again and doing some of the pulling himself, being intentionally slow when he sucks her lower lip between his own. She opens up to him, feeling her sink into his kiss, sink into him, and he offers no resistance when she ends up almost straddling his lap, holding on to both his forearms.
When she begins to move more decidedly against him, though, showing every sign of wanting to take the lead, having let go of his arms to grab at his clothes, it's his cue to refocus. While he helps her discard of his jacket, positively boiling under all these layers, that's as far as he lets her get, stopping her when she makes to pull at his shirt.
He grabs both her wrists instead, swiftly pushing her back down until she's pressed upon the mattress again, hands pinned on each side of her head. With him fully between her legs, he resumes his rolling motions at once, grinding; she instinctively clasps her legs around him, responding to his thrusts, and he swallows her next moan, kissing her deep, and slow, but mostly kissing her breathless.
When he lets go of one of her hands to put his to better use, shifting upon her, her fingers sink into his hair. At first, she's merely trying to twist it in her grip, and he almost wishes he hadn't had it cut the previous week. When his hand has traveled all the way down between them and his fingers pass the threshold, slipping through wet warmth, her grip becomes so tight that the short length of his hair doesn't matter much, the twist now a delicious, painful pull.
Peter lets go of her mouth, raising his head in time to see her bite down on her lip, hard, brow furrowed, eyes tightly closed, swallowing back her own moan, a sight that sends searing prickles of pleasure down his spine, concentrating low within.
He could die a happy man, with his hand pressed against her warmth, lost in the act of pleasing her. But even now, he feels his meager control slipping from him, steered in equal parts by his need to please her and his need for her, all too aware of how close he is.
Unable to think, only to feel, he gives in to his own urges, this time, pulling his hand out to grab hers from his hair, pinning it back against the bed near her head, fingers intertwined, mirroring the other side.
Already, he's shifted again, back to grinding their hips, pressing his hard arousal against her swollen core, slow...fast. Faster. And he almost feels that escalating pressure inside of her, in the squeeze of her fingers between his, of her legs around his back, sees it in her gaze, trapped in his, hot breaths and groans melding, his own pleasure mounting in steps with hers.
Olivia comes, hard, and her orgasm hits him like a bolt of lightning, sizzling and blinding, a blast of energy that spreads throughout his nervous system and splits his atoms apart, fusing them back together with hers.
As their breathings slow down and they lie there entangled, sweaty and sticky, still fully dressed for the most part, the situation has the potential to become awkward. It doesn't.
If anything else, their next moves are on the clumsy side as they begin to disentangled themselves from one another, inconvenienced by trembling limbs. They don't share a word, though, solely directed by a mutual yearning, needing to do this properly, and to do it now. The almost sloppy removal of clothes only becomes secondary to the meeting of their lips, halting the process quite regularly to sink into kisses that are famished and languid, the kinds that belong to lovers.
It takes a while, but one by one, every item is removed, and more skin is exposed, increasing that contact they're both craving for. The more of him Olivia gets to touch, the less idle her fingers become, decidedly bolder and typically her, too; by the time they're bared of all clothes, they're entangled in such a way that he's once again fully hard, throbbing into her hand and moaning against her skin as she keeps on nibbling his earlobe.
With her help, Peter finds his way into her as easily as if they'd done this a hundred times before.
The feel of her is the most excruciating kind of ecstasy, forcing him to stay still, at first. He's never known this to be this intense and annihilating, her thighs squeezing his waist, her legs locked upon his lower back; one of his arms is wrapped around her, pressed between skin and mattress to keep her close to him, as close as they can possibly get.
All ten pads of her fingers are digging into his face, lips millimetres apart, yet not kissing anymore, too focused on sensations to do anything but feel, the air humming all around them, since there isn't an inch of space left between them.
Like their two universes, they're vibrating at different frequencies, identical yet slightly different.
And when stillness makes place to that dance that is as old as time, they're like these metronomes, too, their tempos quite similar, yet slightly out of sync, as he moves into and against her and she meets his every thrust, only occasionally finding that shared synchronicity.
In a fleeting moment of despair that mingles with aching pleasure, Peter wonders if they're breaking the very laws of Nature by this act, and if they are, what the consequences might be to the fabric of their worlds joining the way they are, hipbones meeting, sweat melding, her breasts pressing into his chest with his every sway.
And deep inside of her, lost in the hot, burning feel of her, in the depth of her eyes, it dawns on him that he doesn't care.
He doesn't care.
Because their frequencies are harmonizing, their tempos adjusting as they fall into step, so that the amount of shared synchronicity soon overtakes their lapses, encouraged and driven by the sound of her voice and the clasp of her everything. And it doesn't matter if their eye contact breaks as Olivia throws her head back and moans his name, because she sees him anyway.
He's a boy from the other side, after all, and this is her gift; her curse.
He comes with his face buried against her neck, his entire fucking soul entrapped beneath her skin; he might have found the irony of it amusing, hadn't it been so damn devastating.
His breathing is harsh and ragged against her skin, odd, rasping sounds coming out of his throat, now, and the tremors that shake his body are caused by much more than aftershocks. Olivia understands what is happening long before he does, and she tries to soothe him, gentle fingers in his hair, soft hand moving across his back.
Every part of them is still entangled, yet she holds him to her tight, as he attempts to rid himself of a sorrow that is etched in his very DNA.
This is where you belong, she tells him without a single word.
And when she murmurs the words into his ear, Peter might just believe her.