Sum over Histories
Summary: Olivia comes back. Olivia and Peter save the world. Again.
Categories: Romance; Adventure
Rating: M: So kiddies, the faint of heart, and those with refined taste should scoot along elsewhere. You have been warned.
Story Notes: Please accept my preemptive apologies for the pseudo-pseudoscience. Not a scientist. Sadly, I'm not even a pseudoscientist. Never will be.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Spoilers: AU after early season 3 (more or less around Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep?). Includes some elements of the early part of Season 3, but no spoilers beyond that.
A/N: Many thanks to starg8fans for the generous encouragement and beta.
Dim light surrounded me and soft tones called my name, "Olivia?"
This last was softer, emphasizing the "LIV" in the exasperated way people talk to ill-behaved children.
Thick-headed, I fought for consciousness—and barely won. Astrid's face leaned over me to block out the uncomfortable beam of light in my eyes.
I panted, straining my wrists when the restraints pulled at my hands. A tie from a ratty bathrobe ran under the gurney securing my hands. Something I couldn't see through the bright light tugged on my ankles. Someone had invented makeshift restraints on the fly.
Astrid's face was rumpled with worry and she reached over to adjust the medications that dripped from the nearby IV. I might have moaned. My voice was hoarse and my throat burned.
Still struggling, I focused again on Astrid's face. Without the black beret and a thousand variables reflecting in her irises, her eyes were soft and brown, though deep shadows punctuated them underneath. I could saw sadness layered over compassion in her dark eyes. She was dressed in jeans and a soft sweater. Her hand was warm; it felt tiny as it stroked my wrist and then disappeared into mine.
Her smile stretched a little too widely across her face as she felt my struggles cease. "You're back." She grinned. "We thought we'd lost you there for a second."
The Secretary's clinical voice emerged from somewhere behind the light above my head—he was muttering to himself. Astrid's free hand fluttered in the direction of the foot of the gurney I was strapped to.
I must have failed.
When my eyes followed the movement of her hand, Peter stood up, scraping the metal fold-up chair across the concrete floor. He shoved his hands in the pockets of the pea coat.
I was beginning to think his wardrobe department was on strike; he never wore anything else but navy wool. His face, artificially composed, was as blank as a Bhikkhu. The lack of his irritating smirk terrified me far more than my failure and certain death.
The first syllable of what was supposed to be a whole word crossed his lips as he moved to put his hands on my ankles again. That alone was strange: the revenant-Peter who only I could see, was never at a loss for words. He had so many words in fact I had once actually tried to stuff a rag in his mouth. The rag had slipped through his phantom form leaving me more than convinced than ever I was insane.
But that was before I remembered who I was. Before I remembered I was miserable and trapped on the Other Side. Then, when his soothing presence only frightened me, I would have done anything to shut him the hell up.
When I flinched away from him, he bit back the word and snapped away from me, jamming his hand further into his pockets.
After struggling one last time—more for form's sake than any real conviction I could escape—I closed my eyes again. When I failed to cross over back home I had revealed to the Secretary and the powers that be I knew who I was. Just as what little consciousness I briefly possessed passed away in the clutch of drugs that flooded my bloodstream, I narrowed my eyes in what I hoped was Peter's direction and managed to rasp, "What now, genius?"
I wasn't entirely certain what Olivia meant, but I knew what she meant by "genius." Or, rather who. Her voice was barely functional and her absynthine eyes pinned me to the lab's dark wall like an insect in a case. I know she was less than coherent, not even post Bra-and-Panties-Tank™ strange, but her eyes were clear. She was pissed—specifically at me.
After Olivia succumbed (again) to Walter's sleep elixir, Walter himself started mumbling, walking from table to table inside the lab. He might have been dancing—or he might have been calculating where the hell she had been and how she had been returned—with Walter it was impossible to tell. Astrid, who had heard Olivia's words and seen her flinch away from me, tried unsuccessfully to make like a tree.
I shrugged off my coat and busied myself with loosening Olivia's restraints. I was pretty sure that she wouldn't fight us again when she woke, but not sure enough to free her entirely. Don't ask me how I know. For the first time in a long while I could feel the butterfly wings of her consciousness brushing up against my intentionally empty brain. Since I could feel her again, I presumed she was back—whatever that might mean.
It was, finally, the lack of her mental invasion which had done the Faux Olivia in. When I finally took a few moments to pull my empty head out of my ass (or, more precisely, off of the Faux's buttery skin) to ponder that, after months of feeling her politely rippling outside my own consciousness, suddenly, when I should have felt her the most, she was out of my head.
I had also somehow, managed to ignore pastry deliveries to Walter, her open-mouthed-throw-her-head-back laughter, and her shy-yet-persistent interest in every aspect of my life. That her eyes were flat and emerald as a poker table through all of this bounced right off my shields.
Don't ask me why it took me nearly five long weeks. I really don't have an answer for that one.
"Should we . . . I mean, just let her up like that?" Astrid's voice was uncertain and she wouldn't look me in the eye. She'd rightly guessed I was acting on gut instinct, hardly reassuring given that my gut was more or less unreliable in detecting interdimensional combatants among us.
There wasn't really an answer to Astrid's non-question. I hardly knew myself how this thing worked. I knew Olivia was in my head. Well, back in my head.
Olivia's telepathy—courtesy of childhood experiments in Cortexiphan—is as one-dimensional as a radio with a broken dial always tuned to W-PETER. For reasons Walter never bothered to explain (or, maybe, chose not to explain) not only could Olivia hear me, but I was also minimally capable of hearing her. Unfortunately, my abilities only let me intuit inconsequential things—like whether Olivia was going to order spaghetti or egg salad at a restaurant—more of a sideshow trick than a real facility.
The day I realized Olivia was quite literally in my head I threw a temper tantrum the likes of which made both world's three year-olds give up in defeat. In the ensuing months, though I bitched about her telepathic abilities long and loud to anyone who would listen, I secretly grew, if not comfortable exactly, at least not resentful of having her flickering in my head like a late-summer firefly. When she was distracted, or blocked me, or went into Walter's Terror Tank I grew as peevish and petulant as a child deprived of a sweet.
I wasn't sure what to say to Astrid, so I settled for the truth.
"I don't think she knew where she was. I think she thought she was still over there. Probably tested like a lab rat and penned up by Walternate." I yanked on the restraints but they wouldn't give. Damnit. Panic had made me pull them too tight. I'd have to cut them off.
This morning had marked five weeks since our return from the Other Side, when I guess they pulled the Olivia switcheroo. It had only been a few hours since I finally realized that the Olivia constantly tuned into my own head was just gone.
The Faux and I were dozing after a particularly sweaty Sunday spent entirely in her bed. It had been several hours that my brain had experienced regular blood-flow—this hadn't happened since I was invited oh so sweetly into her home and her bed (and honestly, this should have been my first tip-off). I uncharacteristically let myself fold outward toward her, expecting to feel the familiar bloom of her mind in and around my own. When I felt nothing—just her utter and complete absence—I knew she was gone. And then, like the psychopathic twins from the first season of the X-Files, I just knew.
There was no other explanation, unless the Cortexiphan suddenly just stopped working (assuming it was the Cortexiphan, a minor detail Walter had yet to prove). If the Cortexiphan had stopped working, I reasoned, she was sure as hell likely to mention it given the drama of our lives.
Call it guilt, call it fear, call it the congealed hot-wings the Faux and I consumed in the buff straight from their Styrofoam delivery boxes that afternoon, but when I realized my Olivia was gone and I was enjoying post-coital lethargy with a soldier from my home world, a double agent, and possibly a shape-shifter, I raced to bathroom with the urgency of a bulimic.
I had just enough time to turn on the sink water to drown out the noise before I was ingloriously sick in the toilet. Over the running water I heard her muffled voice checking on me. The wings burned more the second time, but I managed to assure her, through the door, I was just taking a shower.
Then, I brushed my teeth and dressed. When I emerged from the shower I had a plan.
After a most degrading struggle during which I earned a bloody lip, a scalp lac, and a tolerable concussion from the Faux, I arrived at the basement lab with her trussed and gagged. Walter ignored me when we entered. He was already wearing his lab coat and mixing something cloudy and bubbly in a beaker. For once, his eccentricity comforted rather than irritated me.
I explained what I thought happened the best I could while Astrid chained the Faux to a thick sewage pipe that ran alongside the lab's far wall.
Just when Astrid had convinced me not to just shoot the Faux and be done with it, a roar loud enough to make my ears ring removed a hefty section of the lab's left wall and ceiling. A student desk from the upper floor classroom, the kind with the table attached to the chair, wobbled, then pitched down into the basement gloom. Through the gaping hole and the dust I could see the antiquated chalkboard with a few lines of a Keats Ode scratched on it. "Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss, / Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve; / She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, / Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!" I thought about the people on the other side, frozen in amber, plugging the thinning margins between the two universes.
Then, a tornado of white light spiraled down and hovered in the middle of the room. Objects sailed hither and yon through the air. A plastic bucket thumped against Gene's flank and she added continuous mooing to the din. I pulled Olivia's Glock out of my waistband, worth every penny the injuries it cost me, and pointed it at the Faux. I reasoned she was somehow responsible for this newest, yet all-too-common, suspension of the laws of physics.
"What the —" was all I could manage before the tornado shaped light added rippling to its repertoire of effects.
Everything around me was unfolding under the red haze of my anger against the Faux, against Walter, against my other seven year-old self, whose death unwittingly inaugurated this dark odyssey. Walter and Astrid were yelling at me, but the hum of my own guilt and the roar of the preternatural cyclone made them look like a dubbed king fu movie. Even my debilitated senses recognized that nothing good could come of this.
My brain loped moronically trying to keep up with the events unfolding before me. I should run. I should take cover. But all I could think about was how Gene might begin swirling into the cyclone of light like cows inevitably do in movie-tornados. I wondered whether the other side had direct-sourced chocolate milk.
A moment later, like the rushed fourth act in a television script, the Faux, still chained and gagged was magically sucked into the rippling light just when my trigger finger was less than an ounce of pressure away from transforming her face into an unrecognizable splatter of gore.
A nanosecond after her simulacrum had roared with fright and vanished, Olivia rippled in front of us like a hologram then landed with a corporeally wet plop on the lab's concrete floor. She was wearing a white hospital gown and gobs of unnamable goo.
I hoped to god she was the one from this universe.
I could hear Olivia's gasps and choking from behind the ropes of her hair. The Faux's restraints clanked emptily against the sewage pipe Astrid had chained her to.
Astrid and Walter, both quicker (not to mention more capable of rational thought) rushed to her. Astrid, more useful than Walter, began sponging goo off of her face. Walter plucked at the edges of her gown and murmured sotto voce.
The red in my vision cleared and the buzzing in my ears dulled before I realized that I had a gun pointed at all three of them. I lowered the weapon with trembling hands, placed it on the lab table and backed away.
Maybe this was why Olivia wouldn't let me legally register a firearm.
I kept backing away until I was next to Gene's stall, where I kneeled down and committed myself to sucking great gulps of air. The smell of manure and curdled milk irrigated my sinuses. Gene watched serenely as I emptied the too-scant contents of my stomach for the second time that day.
Moments after she was returned Olivia behaved in a way that made Tyler Durden seem passive as pie crust. Everything that wasn't fastened down she hurled in our direction. She screamed obscenities until she was hoarse.
Recalling the grainy video headlining a little girl crouched in a fetal position surrounded by a blackened room, I mentally checked the area for exits and fire extinguishers.
Then, when all movable objects were out of her reach and her voice was gone, she used her own teeth and nails to shred her gown. It took Astrid-like patience, elephantine doses of Walter's sedative homebrew, and a set of makeshift restraints before we managed to first strap and then calm Olivia down, in that order.
Over the past several hours Astrid had cleaned the now-sedated Olivia of most the slop she had accrued universe-hopping and, while Walter and I decorously turned our backs, changed her in to one of my spare T-shirts I fetched from the back of Walter's car where they seemed to magically reproduce themselves. Walter monitored her vitals, and I managed not to vomit again.
When Olivia sat up, her (my) T-shirt hung off one of her shoulders, making her look like some strange refugee from Flashdance. I watched the wheels of her mind turn and felt her process that she had somehow managed to return home.
When she spoke her voice still scratched, but you wouldn't imagine that a very few hours earlier she'd practically tried to gnaw off her own arm.
The tractor beam of her eyes focused on Walter. "Took you long enough."
Well, at least then I knew she was the one who belonged here.
Everyone in the room froze and gaped at me. I wondered if there was a mistake and I was transported to Madame Tussaud's instead of Walter's basement lab.
Maybe they were expecting me to find and use a weapon, given my confused fits from earlier.
Astrid was the first to move toward me—not surprising, since she is by far the bravest and most pragmatic of our band of Merry Men (Family? Motley Crew?). Whatever. She looked me in the eye and then silently handed me towels, one after another for me to scuff away at the now-dried goo.
"Have you been – there?" Walter was the first to speak. It wasn't really a question. I nodded and felt knotted mats of hair graze my upper back and shoulders.
"I guess Olivia would like to clean up and get some sleep before she answers many more questions," Astrid said firmly. "She can come back to my house, shower and sleep. In the morning we can—"
I sucked in air to ward off the pain. It was excruciating. My body felt like it was passing though a vice.
"I want to go home." Suddenly I did, even if I couldn't clearly recall the location or layout of my apartment. I could only picture the other Olivia's house on the other side.
Walter protested that I needed observation, but his heart wasn't in it—even though he was mumbling and shuffling when he spoke all I could see was the Secretary in his tailored suit. I couldn't quite repress a shudder.
After she nudged me into the office and closed the door Astrid helped me into the spare clothes I kept in a duffle at the lab. She gathered up the legs of my sweatpants in her hands and motioned for me to put my foot in the hole, "You should stay with me tonight. Shannon is out of town."
Astrid is an FBI agent. She helps with Walter in the lab. Shannon is her girlfriend. Like a latecomer frantically reading a playbill before the curtain rises on the first act, I had to consciously recall and memorize these characters' identities.
Even though she was infantilizing me, Astrid's quiet kindness helped me to focus.
"I have a soaking tub. And a new bottle of Irish whiskey." She shoveled my arms through the holes of a sweatshirt. "That one with a dirty name—Black Bush."
I let her dress me like a doll and stared blankly over the top of Astrid's head, now bent to tighten the strings of the sweatpants' waist.
"It's Shannon's but we can crack that open."
She kicked the T-shirt I dropped to the floor into the corner.
"Thanks, but I really want to sleep in my own bed tonight." Astrid's lips pulled tight against her teeth, imitating a smile.
"Okay," she said, but her eyes narrowed with pity. "Walter's boots are by the door. You can wear those."
I wandered out the door of the office and slid my feet into the boots by the stairs, waiting for my ride.
Olivia had spent too long in that room with Astrid. I was uptight just having her out of my sight. My brain hadn't really yet caught up with the events of the evening, but even though I could feel her here again, it wasn't enough. I wanted her out here. Where I could see her.
"Son, why don't you go get the car warmed up? I am sure Agent Dunham would like to warm her ass." Walter's voice was consoling, sympathetic even.
For once, I was too tired to deliver a suitable smart-ass comment. I just shrugged my shoulders silently and took off out of the lab. Walking out the lab door, I passed the darkened hallway to the right with the custodial closet squatting at the end of it like a misplaced punctuation mark.
The hallway was dark, just as it had been almost a year ago, the day Olivia drank Walter's worm-smoothie and got her memories back.
Astrid had taken Walter home for the day while I stayed later to finish up a test on the shapeshifter device. When I stepped out of the lab, Olivia was there, looking more rumpled than usual. Only later did I learn that the shapeshifter wearing Charlie's body had slung her around an alley, compelling her to put a bullet in his head.
I had only seen Olivia briefly that day, just long enough for me to Vincent Vega her with the epinephrine when the onslaught of her memories made her hit the floor harder and faster than if she'd snorted heroine. When she'd popped up like a macabre Jack-in-the-Box after the injection, I issued a brief, but heartfelt, prayer of thanks to the gods that I hadn't lacerated her coronary artery. Then I watched in paralyzed horror as Olivia levered herself up drunkenly, pulled on her jacket and stalked out the door, already dialing her phone and yammering about talking to Nina Sharp.
In any case, that evening I don't know if she had just come into the building or she had been waiting there, stalking me. She grabbed my shirtsleeves and wordlessly tugged me down the hallway while I loped behind to keep up. I'll never know how she even knew the closet was there, much less unlocked. We'd been coming to Walter's lab for over a year and I'd never even looked down there before.
At the end of the hallway, she'd opened the door and pushed me inside with such single-mindedness that for a moment I thought she might be a shapeshifter. The door closed behind us with a snick and she backed me up against the "V" of two walls in a corner of the small closet.
I smelled ancient dust and the stiff, moldy cleaning tools that were piled in one corner. The molten mercury of her eyes stayed the smart-ass remark hovering on the tip of my tongue. In one efficient motion she grabbed the two sides of my collar, yanked my head down the few inches to hers and ground her lips into mine.
Her mouth opened and her tongue slid between my teeth. Before I even had time to react she lifted my hands to the heat of her breasts between the flaps of her already unbuttoned shirt. Her bra was the sensible sling of black cotton jersey. Senses on autopilot, my hands palmed her breasts while my mouth tried to taste all of her at once.
When my thumbs grazed her nipples, Olivia's sharp intake of breath was nearly inaudible, but considering I've seen her take a beating with barely a gasp, she may as well have screamed. It propelled my dimwitted brain cells into action. I didn't need an engraved invitation—I'm not exactly known for my self-control. I began to grope her in earnest. I felt one of the buttons pop off my shirt as her cool hands traced matching trails up my sides and onto my chest.
It must have been an old custodial closet, because the corner she shoved me into was a couple of inches shorter that where Olivia was standing—probably a drain for dirty mop water. Our slight height differential rectified, my cock bobbed and probed the heat between her legs. She drew in air again and snaked one leg around my hip. I heard the clunk of her leather shoe against the washtub. When her hot mouth slid down my throat, leaving a deliciously frigid trail behind it that raised goose bumps on my skin, I moaned.
Her breath hitched and I mourned the loss of her sharp, purposeful hands behind my neck and groping my ass. I heard the hiss of a zipper, a bump and a curse, and then she was squirming under my arm onto the edge of the washtub, angling me around to face her with a hand on my neck. Her eyes were magnified chloroplasts, limitless shades of green, while her deliberate hands undid the button and zipper on my jeans and shoved my shorts and jeans down in one swipe. One hand enveloped my cock and the other cupped my balls.
Self-control stretched thin and then snapped like a worn rubber band.
I never thought she would make the first move. And I specifically never thought she would make it in a dirty broom closet in the Harvard basement.
My trembling hands couldn't stop touching her even if my life had depended on it. I couldn't shake the feeling that this would be a one shot-deal. That I would lapse into old age and senility and never taste her again.
I decided I would get a damned good taste.
I wanted to ask her a thousand questions, beginning with "What are you doing?" and ending with . . . well, "What are you doing?" I realized that even thinking such questions meant I'd have to surrender my man-card but I didn't care. I wanted to ask anyway, but "Uh—mmm! —via!" were the only syllables I could manage.
Then she smiled at me, a wicked, wanton smile I could barely see in the dim light coming underneath the door, a smile I was sure I would dream about on my deathbed. Then, she guided my cock into the tight, wet heat of her and there was no more thought. The universes narrowed to the size of Olivia, the push of her narrow fingers on my hipbones, the jagged breaths she pulled against my ear, and the coffee and walnut taste of her.
I wouldn't have regretted the loss of a thousand universes then.
I don't know what came over me, but I was able to keep up my uneven thrusts forever. Had I been lucid enough for reason I would have given myself a mental high-five. The air in the closet was warm and humid and Olivia came twice before I finally shuddered, groaned and spilled into her.
Her arms were trapped under mine and curled up around my shoulders. She exhaled and gave my shoulders a squeeze that I took to mean, "let up on your desperate hold of me." When I numbly let her go, she slithered off the edge of the tub to reach her clothes while I struggled to form intelligent thought.
I took a step back, and only when I felt my bare ass on the cold wall behind me did I register that she was nearly fully dressed. While I shoveled myself back into my clothes, Olivia shrugged into her suit coat neatly hanging on the door's handle and pushed her hair over her shoulder.
She grabbed the door's handle and paused. She stared at the door handle like it could divulge all the mysteries of the universe and said, "If you're not busy, you can come by tonight. Rachel and Ella found a place last week."
Then she opened the door and walked out like she'd just been in the closet looking for an extra roll of toilet paper for the Ladies' Room.
Do I even need to mention I wasn't busy?
The general outline of our relationship was drawn that afternoon. I waited patiently and then, when she got bored, or decided she needed a real live person to scratch her itch, I'd get a minor variation of that quiet, businesslike invite.
Then I was allowed to show up on her doorstep, strip her naked and touch every part of her with my hands and mouth. I was allowed to moan assorted abbreviations of her name when she moved over me, eyes locked with mine, while her hair fanned around my shoulders and curtained us from the outside world.
All of this was only allowed isolated in her apartment. Everything else about our lives went on as before. Not even the tiniest hint that there was something more between us was allowed by daylight. I don't know this because we discussed it. Please. I know because the morning after our first night spent playing hide the gun in Olivia's apartment I couldn't suppress the wide smile I gave her when she came in the lab. Couldn't stop myself from beginning to cross the room toward her to touch or even kiss her.
I had taken probably about three steps before Olivia's Arctic-frosted eyes rooted me to the floor.
By day I worked the lab with Walter and Astrid, testing the invariably gelatinous evidence in order to catch the latest freak de jour, spoke Walter to Olivia, and occasionally trotted beside her when she conducted her investigations.
It wasn't the healthiest relationship, it's true. But I'm ashamed to say I was willing to take what I could get. Saying Olivia has trust issues is like saying the IRA has sovereignty issues; true, yet still painfully inadequate.
But then, after we came back from the Other Side, Olivia promptly morphed into boilerplate girlfriend. The Faux and I enjoyed romantic dinners, breakfasts in bed, and sexy looks across the prone corpses in the lab.
During that period I couldn't unstick the ridiculous refrain from my head: You just hit the jackpot. Now it seemed just as unintentionally farcical as when MJ said it.
I briefly believed that maybe my absence, not to mention the real threat I posed if I stayed Over There with Walternate made Olivia realize just how much she needed me. That maybe what I had to offer her was something more than what my battery-operated equivalent could bring to the table.
Now that seemed as preposterous as one of Walter's more drug-addled theories.
It wasn't the first time in my life I'd deluded myself, but it may have been the most comprehensive.
And the most damaging.
In the end, Peter drove me home. I briefly wondered why no one challenged his authority in this matter. Everyone else in the lab had scurried away like twigs blown by a gathering storm.
Peter held the door silently for me to walk through.
When I stopped outside the building and froze, unable to find the direction of the car, Peter just passed me by and led the way. A black SUV chirped and blinked its lights. Peter opened the passenger door and I slid into the seat.
The streets of Boston whirled past, silent behind the closed window. It all felt so unreal. Like an iPod set to "shuffle," my brain spun, trying to read both sets of memories.
Was it possible to live with two lives coexisting unnaturally scrambled? Walter had said no, back when he let me plow into John's dying brain. Walter had claimed that to preserve my sanity John needed to be evicted from my head faster than a meth cook living next door to a daycare.
Walter had assumed, of course, I still had sanity to preserve.
Pretty much all aspects of each life felt unreal, now silent and spectral like the pre-dawn streets sealed off by the SUV's window. When I tried to separate them—even the inconsequential details like distinguishing the Secretary, who guest-starred in most of my nightmares, from Walter, for whom I had entertained some occasional affection— I only earned myself a headache.
It was a damned good thing Peter drove, since I had no idea how to get home. When he pulled up in front of my stone Victorian, I was still confused, expecting to see the high-rise my doppelganger lived in. I stared at the building, turning my back on Peter, but I could feel him trying to disappear next to me on the seat, quivering just outside the door of my mind marked "CLOSED." I imagined Frank inside the building-that-wasn't-there, warming the dinner he'd cooked for me, tidying the massage oils for my foot rub.
All told, my twin had it pretty good: a reputable job, a handsome apartment, a loving family and, best I could tell, the perfect boyfriend.
She'd medaled in the Olympics for Christ's sake.
I on the other hand, spent my eighty hour weeks working on above-classified assignments which would have horrified and disgusted Dr. Moreau. I lived in a dumpy converted-Victorian. Alone. Most evenings, it was an effort to drink my Bushmills from a glass, and frankly, I usually didn't remember to try.
But the memory of that life—my life—was now shrouded in fog, like a dream I could barely remember the contours of when I woke up.
No wonder I wanted to forget. Her life was full, rich, fun. She was fun.
I was about as fun as a sucking chest wound. I didn't have sassy bangs (at least not voluntarily) and I've never, ever owned a leather jacket. No wonder Peter found it easy to fuck her.
Oh please. You think I don't know why he couldn't spare me a glance or string two words together? I sure didn't have to read him to see it. It was in the way he moved, the way he carefully avoided touching me. I had seen it both times I woke up after Mr. Toad's Interdimensional Ride, even if Walter's drugs made me too preoccupied to comprehend it until now.
And honestly, if Peter's sleeping with my doppleganger were the worst of my problems right now, I'd be ahead of the game.
"Well, thanks for the ride." Almost the minute the car stopped I had my hand on the door handle, trying to slide out.
Unfortunately, the pain in every cranny of my body slowed me down considerably. Lightning bolts of pain shot down from my shoulders to my arms and from my knees to my ankles. Christ, even my hair hurt. Peter was out of his door and around to my side before I could even slide out of the seat.
"Slow down—you're in pain." Peter stared at the area just to the left of my right ear. "You can't go anywhere without me anyway. Do you even have a key?"
As dismissals go it was pretty lame, I realized. I hadn't really expected to get rid of him that easily, like promising to call a bad blind-date.
Did I have a key? For some reason that struck me morbidly funny. No, Peter, I hadn't found time to pocket my key when I left the other Olivia's house this morning. I'd been somewhat distracted by Walternate's mercenaries who escorted me on my all-expenses-paid trip to the secret prison on Liberty Island.
Peter walked up the stairs in front of me. Through the hallway windows I could just see rays of predawn light snaking alongside the buildings behind my apartment. The half-light made the light sprinkle of snowflakes on Peter's wool pea coat shimmer, like he'd spent the night with strippers instead of strapping his psychotic partner to a metal slab.
I wanted to smash the drops destructively into the wool. I wondered if my hands would go right through him like they had Over There.
I swallowed. Over There, Phantom-Peter plagued me like the force of pure id. His presence irrational, his words bending reason and time.
Over Here, he was righteous super-ego. A conscience more irritating because it was earnest and forthright. And because it kept me from sailing over the edge into the deep end of utter recklessness.
Really, I preferred the id.
Peter fished in his pockets, found the key and opened my apartment door. I noticed that my spare key was on his key ring. He pushed the door open and gestured for me to walk through.
"Oh, my God!" My apartment looked like the beaches of Gallipoli—but bloodier. Blood pooled in the corner by my bedroom and blood was smeared on the walls. A body-sized drag mark smeared blood from near the upended couch to the doorjamb. A chair had been shredded and the wall was pockmarked with—
"Bullet holes?" I said, gesturing toward the hallway wall.
Peter shifted next to me and absently put his hand to his head. Just below his hairline I saw what looked like crusted blood.
"What happened to you?"
Peter ignored my admittedly foolish question and began rubbing his chin with the back of his hand.
I took two strides, and reached for him. I ignored his visible flinch, filing the hurt away to examine later when I could separate it from all the other hurts roiling around in me like snakes in a handler's barrel. I put my hands on his hair and pulled his head down so I could see the top of it. I ran my hands on top of his head between his ears until I found the soggy wound still oozing fluids. It was medium-large sized. He probably needed stitches, not that he would get them. Real men don't get stitches.
"Let me guess. You ran into a wall?"
"Something like that." His voice was rough and muffled by my arm, like he hadn't used his voice in hours. I could feel what might have been a smile pressing into my coat sleeve.
"Uh. Could I stand up now?"
I let my hands drop and backed away. I wondered what my bedroom looked like. I was so very, very tired that, unless it already harbored a dead body, I was sleeping in my bed tonight.
Peter stepped into the apartment and closed the door behind him. He shucked his coat off and let it drop to the floor. To be fair, there was no other place to put it.
"Did you confront her here?" I didn't want to know the details, honestly, I didn't, but somehow it was out of my mouth before I fully realized that my mouth was moving.
He walked over to the miniature window in the corner of my "living area" and shoved his hands in his pockets. "Yeah, but only today. Or yesterday, I guess."
"I just found out today," he repeated, like I'd missed it the first time. "We didn't know. Until yesterday—late." He righted my upended coffee-table.
I ignored the deliberate evasiveness of his statement. "So you figured it out and then, what, I just appeared?"
"Something like that. We had just found out. I was explaining to Walter and Astrid that you—"
Peter's voice was as flat and dry as the Kansas prairie in August. He began picking up what looked like the fill from my armchair, which had somehow remained upright but had vomited stuffing all over the room.
"—that she wasn't you. I took her to the lab to Walter. Then she disappeared. And then you appeared."
Lovely. Between them all, a genius, a code-talker, and a mad scientist, they still hadn't been able to tell that I wasn't me. My own uniqueness overwhelmed me.
"I figured as much." Honestly, judging by the number of times Walter repeated the word fortuitous at the lab, I was pretty certain before we even left that he didn't have a clue why I was home. Their stunned looks and lowered eyes had pretty much confirmed that no one here had been instrumental in helping me home.
Which, since I wasn't dead, means I was probably a good deal more capable than anyone thought. I decided to keep that information to myself for a while.
Peter walked away from the window, grabbed the edge of the couch and nodded at me. I hunched down by the other edge and together we flipped it back to an upright position. He flopped down on the couch and stared at the bullet holes in the opposite wall.
"I don't want to—" He leaned over and picked up shards of glass scattered all over the floor. It looked like it might have been a wine glass a few hours ago. "I'm not leaving tonight. Don't make me." He muttered the last part grudgingly, like it was me who owed him a favor.
I didn't correct him. Dawn already broke, so technically it was no longer night. I was too tired to argue.
I went into my room. Miraculously, it seemed mostly unscathed.
The bed was unmade and I collapsed on it still wearing my clothes. Peter-smell saturated the room.
Maybe it was Walter's drugs, maybe it was Peter's shedded skin cells adhered to every surface of my apartment, or maybe it was the deluge of anger and confusion rolling in wave after wave from Peter in the living room because I was too tired to block him, but my stomach lurched like someone kicked me.
Sheer exhaustion overtook me. And then I didn't think anymore.