(another) Final Chapter.

"Lies, all lies! Everything I've been told is a lie! Grunions are fish, Pluto isn't a planet, and there's no actual candy in Candyland!"

"Technically, Pluto is a planetoid," Peter muttered, not looking up from his crossword. Olivia looked between them, a small smile playing uncertainly on her features as she listened to Walter ranting.

"Exactly! Science, once more, proves us all complete fools!" Walter huffed, clattering through a collection of glass flasks. He yelped sharply as he burned his knuckle on an active Bunsen burner, growling a curse as he raised his head to shout, "Miss! Where the devil did you hide my triple-neck?!"

"Walter, why do you need a triple-necked beaker?" Peter questioned cynically, at last looking up from his task, "Those are illegal, you know."

"Yes, well!" Walter said, seeming uncomfortable as he rubbed his burnt knuckle, "I certainly can't refine hydrogen and carbon and other things without a triple-neck-"

"What other things, Walter?" Peter pressed.

"…Nitrous oxide…" Walter murmured shyly.

Peter tossed his newspaper onto the desktop, "Walter, those are the chemicals for making cocaine. Did you ever stop to wonder why the triple-necked beaker is illegal?"

Walter looked cowed, "But it-"

"You're not manufacturing crack it the lab," Peter snapped finally. Olivia was chuckling quietly, shaking her head, when Astrid arrived, carrying with her the requested equipment.

"This one, Walter?" She questioned.

"Don't worry about it, Astrid- Walter won't be needing it," Peter said, rising from his seat to glare at his father while he passed, "I'll take that, if you want-" he reached forward to take it from her, and the beaker somehow slipped in transfer, falling to shatter on the cement floor.

Walter let out a horrified cry and Olivia jumped with surprise, and Astrid blinked in shock, "um… oops?" she offered.

Walter was scrambling to gather the fragments of glass, "Does everyone have to treat my lab tools like baseball equipment?! Oh, this is just hopeless!"

Peter and Astrid both stooped to help gather pieces, "Don't sweat it, Walter, we can get you another one," Peter said, "provided you aren't going to be using it for a meth lab…"

"I'm sorry, Walter," Astrid apologized, "It's just- there was dust, and-"

"No, it was my bad," Peter said, "I grabbed it wrong-"

"No, Peter, I-"

"Seriously, Astrid-"

Walter exclaimed, cutting himself. He brought the cut to his mouth, "Hopefully I'll manage to bleed to death," he grumbled, dropping his gathered pieces, pushing himself back to his feet, "I'll be back with a broom, when you two are done debating the quandary of humpty-dumpty." Walter was grumbling something about uselessness as he swept away, nursing his wound. Olivia watched the situation in an awkward silence, and seemed grateful as her phone gave a chime, and she had to step out to answer the call.

"Dunham," she said as she shut the door behind herself.

Peter shook his head, standing as he dusted his hands, "Oh well. Walter's probably got three or four of them floating around, somewhere." He looked up as Astrid gave a sigh, slumping down at her desk, "What's wrong?" Peter questioned.

"Nothing," Astrid replied. Peter pulled up a chair to sit across the desk from her, propping his elbow on a stack of paperwork.

"Nuh-uh. You've been out of it, lately."

Astrid glanced up at him, then shook her head, "Peter, when the pump malfunctioned, and Walter, he almost drown…"

"Yes? Don't worry, Astrid. The stuff it this place might be positively prehistoric, but as long as we've got each other's back to defend against evil, expired machinery, nothing will go wrong. And I guess I have to thank you, for saving my father. Or at least, congratulate you, for even keeping up with him." But Astrid was shaking her head.

"It's not that. Believe me, I know how the stuff in here can go on the fritz. But… Peter, I care about Walter."

Peter swallowed, "Okay."

"That's not to say, in that way," Astrid stammered, reddening slightly, "I mean, I care about him, what happens to him… and when he almost died, I was terrified… Peter, Walter means a lot to me."

"For novel value alone," Peter joked.

Astrid spared him a smile, "Something like that. But he's.. he's the reason I keep coming back, I guess. He did get me to stay, if only to be more irritating than ever. But, I guess it's a little like the way you care about him."

"He grows on you, doesn't he?"

"Peter, Walter's the reason you keep coming back, too."

"He's not the only reason."

Astrid glanced up at him, "I know."

Peter sighed softly, leaning back in his chair, "What are you trying to say?"

Astrid scratched her forehead, "I guess… that I care about you, too, Peter. In a completely different way."

Peter raised his eyebrows, "So… you're saying I can take you out to dinner again?"

Astrid got to her feet, her face burning as she glared at him, stepping toward him. Peter exclaimed in alarm before she leaned in, grasping him by the collar to pull him in and kiss him, "That's what I'm saying, Peter."

"But that's what I said," Peter murmured, slightly flabbergasted.

Astrid smiled, "You owe me a banana latte, in any case."

"Consider it done. In fact-"

Olivia cleared her throat, and Astrid and Peter jumped apart, "Yeah, sorry. I have to head down to the federal building, Charlie's got some files for me to pick up."

"Okay," Astrid replied, trying to hide her flushed face behind her laptop screen.

"Good luck, drive safe," Peter added, amusing himself by bending a paperclip in half.

Olivia smiled, shaking her head. "Walter!" She called, and he emerged from somewhere with a bucket and a brush for Gene, having forgotten his original purpose, "Want to go for a ride?"

Walter blinked in surprise, "…Now?"

"Yeah. It's only down to the federal building- come on." Olivia only continued to smile quietly to her self as she gathered her coat and keys, heading out the door.

Walter was pulling on his own coat, working out the situation in his head, when he suddenly glanced up at Peter, still seeming confused, "Do you think she likes me, son?"

Peter chuckled, "No, Walter."

Walter looked slightly offended, "Who asked your opinion?" and he scampered out of the lab, grumbling something about chest hair.

A few minutes passed and the sound of bubbling chemicals could be heard, in the nearly vacant lab, as Peter and Astrid quietly debated dinner plans, circles and squares, and circumnavigation.

xXx

END.