A/N: Here we go, last installment of 'In Reverse'. I always tend to get a bit emotional when I conclude long fics (or more emotional than usual), but finishing this one was particularly painful. I don't want to write a long blabla at the end of this, so I might ramble a bit now.
Thank you all so very much, for reading, for adding this story to your favorites and your alert, and of course for reviewing. A special thank you to the few of you who reviewed every (or most) chapter, you know who you are :') It truly has been my pleasure to write this future timeline for Peter and Olivia, though it was a very evil pleasure at times. Let's all pray for happier time for them on the show. I'm just happy canon can never go against this story (therefore it is forever canon in my head XD).
I call this part 'Part Zero', I think you'll understand why. Warning you, this is not exactly happy. And by that, I mean some of you might need one last tissue ;-)
See you at the very end.
0. TURN BACK THE CLOCK
'Happiness' had never been one his life's goals; it had never been one of hers either.
Happiness is such a fleeting feeling. It can grasp you when you least expect it, but it rarely lasts long. You learn to appreciate the bursts when they come, but Peter had never thought that happiness had to be achieved. In any case, happiness is relative when one is burdened with so much pain, the way he and Olivia had been for so long, so long that neither of them even remembered when it had begun; somewhere in the middle of their fucked up childhoods, without a doubt.
He had never cared much about happiness. What he had come to rely upon, though, to cling to, was the feeling of stability he got with her. They had been so in tune with each other, in ways that might have been overwhelming to some.
To him, it had simply been soothing.
To have experienced this. To be lying in bed, perfectly quiet and still, doing nothing but stare into her eyes, and feel her staring back, their souls at peace for a minute. In that moment, it doesn't matter what has happened in the past, what will happen in the future, what hurts so deep it has to be buried, what is left untold. It doesn't matter.
He doesn't really know what stops him from climbing onto the blazing raft and let the fire scorch him as it scorches her coffin. Let the flame engulf him and burn him, burn him to the core and let him die. Consume his flesh and bones the way it's consuming hers.
He has nothing left.
Olivia had a freckle on the side of her left breast.
She had more than one freckle on her breasts, of course, but this one had the particularity of being visible whenever she wore a dress with a surprisingly nice cleavage…which couldn't have happened more than four or five times in the past fifteen years. Every time it had happened, though, Peter had shamelessly stared, thinking about how comforting it was to know he was the only person in the world who was allowed to see –and enjoy- the rest of them. And that's what he had told her, once, his nose pressed into the soft flesh of her breast.
"How nice," she had said, amused. "I'm married to a horny teenager."
Another time, another night, one of laziness and slow love making, he had decided to count them all. Her freckles.
It had been in the early days of fall, he knows, as all over her nose and cheeks had been scattered the dots, which would sometimes fade nearly completely by the end of winter. There might have been a hundred of them on her face alone, and he could have spent the night kissing them all. But her body had been warm and supple under his, her fingers tracing shapeless drawings on his skin, and her face alone, though more than a lovely sight, hadn't been enough. Counting her freckles had seemed like a wonderful idea, one that had made her laugh in quiet amusement at first, but as his lips brushed their way from speck to speck, his turn to draw patterns on her skin, her chuckles had smoothly dissolved into sighs.
He had lost count, eventually, had lost the ability to keep track, because she hadn't been docile and compliant under him; she never was. She had been fire and she had been quivering flesh, offering him the relief of a hushed mind, having forgotten how to count so he could just feel.
Freckles are nothing but details. But aren't details the mere essence of love?
You don't love her because she's exceptionally brave or heartbreakingly selfless, because she's driven or beautifully vulnerable underneath it all. You may fall in love because of it, and fall in love over and over again through the years, but it isn't what you love at any given moment.
You love the red mark on the bridge of her nose after she's spent too many hours working on files. You love the sound of the air coming in and out of her lungs as she sleeps. You love finding her hair on your clothes, and the smell of her on your pillow. You love every single detail of her face, even the ones she despises. You love the way she smiles, you love the way she looks, you love the way she is.
Just like grains of sand, each detail is precious and unique.
Details are all you have left once she's gone.
And once she's gone, just like a breeze blowing the sand away, details are the next thing to go.
Astrid kindly offers to stay with him for a while when she drives him back to their house
and he barely shakes his head in negative. What for? Nothing can soothe his pain, certainly not people's compassion. He just hopes alcohol will have more effect on him than it has had so far, maybe force him into a drunken, dreamless slumber at least.
Peter can hardly breathe. And it isn't just a figure of speech.
As he sits there on the couch, so stiff and immobile, he feels like he's slowly suffocating. He feels grief's claws around his throat, squeezing his lungs, digging into his chest and heart, tearing the flesh apart.
It's too quiet. It's too normal.
Nothing in his surroundings has changed. Dishes from their last dinner together are still on the table, because they had gotten distracted and that had been okay they could clean them in the morning.
Now she's dead and he cannot, cannot move the plates, touch her wine glass.
He can't breathe.
And so he drinks. He swallows gulps of alcohol after gulps of alcohol, waiting for the numbness to come back, but it doesn't. She's everywhere, and every time he squeezes his eyes shut, she's there, too. Flashes, memories, and it's unbearable. Grief is one vicious, overpowering feeling.
She's still so real and tangible in his mind, years and years and years of life together having made her as much a part of himself as his own body. And yet, he knows that she is gone, that he will never see her again, and that it is the way it is. That's where his pain lies.
In that excruciating longing for which there is no relief.
It's so intense that it surpasses the heavy weight of guilt. She died because of him, and maybe he should be curled up on the floor, weeping and begging for forgiveness. But he misses her too much to be able to think about anything but her and how badly he wants to see her.
Her name echoes in his brain, in every inch of his flesh.
Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia Olivia
It's a mantra, it's a prayer, it's a desperate plea.
Surely this cannot be. There is no point in letting the pain of guilt overpower his raw sorrow when it is so obvious he will not have to live with the consequences. He's going to go to sleep and never wake up. His body will simply give up on its own, and his broken soul will drift away. Right.
This empty bottle won't do, though. He's gonna need more alcohol for sleep to take him.
He barely sways on his feet as he makes his way to the kitchen, drunk yet not drunk enough, keeping his eyes on the floor because she's everywhere, in every item they own, in every corner of the room, drinking coffee, heating up take-out food, moaning his name, downing a glass of whiskey, smiling at him. And keeping his eyes down works, for a minute. But when he closes the freezer's drawer after having found what he had been hunting for, his eyes fall on the drawing, still clipped to the fridge.
And he hears her voice, as clearly as he had that night, mere days ago.
"That's you, and me, and the little baby that we're gonna have."
She had smiled softly, and he had joked. He had joked because joking still is his defense mechanism. He had mastered the skill of keeping painful subjects buried so well that he had done it almost unconsciously, genuinely amused in a sweet way by Amanda's baby-sitting wishes. And Olivia had joked with him.
But then she hadn't. He remembers her, now, her back to him as she stared at the drawing. He remembers the sad longing in her voice.
"She's a sweet little girl."
His hopes for them had been real, that night. If life has taught him one thing over the years, it is that no matter how dark things get, there always is the occasional surge of hope.
As long as they were together, keeping each other's steady, there was always hope.
Peter reaches for her, for this smiling depiction of her, his fingers brushing her drawn face, as if somehow, he could cup her face in his hand and feel her warm, soft cheek against his palm one more time. And he knows hopes weren't what had been been on her mind when she had looked at the picture, when she had admitted that she 'thought about it', wishing things were different.
It had been one of these rare times when they had been slightly off beat, and she hadn't pushed him. She hadn't pushed him when he started joking again, affirming that they would have kids someday, hadn't pushed him later that evening either when she had admitted out loud what she had been thinking about all along, and he had joked some more.
'When the world gets better,' he remembers thinking, his body pressed against hers. 'When the world gets better and we can try again, we'll talk about her, I promise. We'll talk about her.'
But there is no more hope, no more time. She's just…gone. And with her, the opportunity to talk about her has gone, too.
Things should have been different. He should have been stronger for her. This shouldn't have become one of their taboos, not when they had been sharing the same burden. And yet, it had become the heaviest of all. He even remembers when it had happened.
He had woken up a year exactly after Elizabeth's death, two months after Rachel's, and when he should have wrapped Olivia's curled up form in his arms and held her as long as she needed him to, he had gone to work instead. Because he had to keep busy, he couldn't just take a day off like her, he had to move. When he had come back, a few hours later, she hadn't been in bed, where he had expected her to spend the day; the apartment had been empty, and he had found a note on the kitchen's table.
'You know where I am.'
It had been both a reassurance and a quiet invitation, asking him to come mourn with her on their daughter's grave. What she hadn't known, though, was that he had tried to go there, over and over again during the past twelve months. He had never passed the cemetery's gates.
He hadn't joined her. And when she had come home, eventually, he had felt so shameful and weak that he had just…pretended. Pretended nothing was wrong. And she had let him.
She shouldn't have. He shouldn't have let his pain and guilt make her so hesitant to talk about what they once had, almost had.
I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry
She shouldn't have taken that bullet. She shouldn't have died because of him.
Peter does end up on the floor, back against the fridge, weeping into his knees; weeping his sorrow, weeping his guilt, weeping his regrets.
And as he cries for her, the way she had cried for him so many times, too many times, he feels her again. He feels her as she kneels in front of him, curling her fingers in his hair, and she presses her cheek upon the top of his head and holds him against her.
But when he reaches out for her, there is nothing.
Olivia is gone.
In the hollow hours of the night, when prolonged heart-wrenching sobbing and too much ethanol in his veins leave him completely spent and slightly delirious, that's when Peter sees her most clearly. He doesn't try and stop the endless flow of memories this time, doesn't fight it.
He embraces it, because it is all he has left. He opens his mind to her and everything she has meant to him, and that's how he finds himself lost into one of these memories he had kept locked up for so many years.
The simplest moments can be the happiest ones. They are also the ones that hurt the most.
There's no point in keeping this one buried anymore, as every reminiscence of her makes his heart bleed anyway.
And she's so beautiful, lying in bed next to him in all her glorious nakedness, the sheets rumpled over their feet. It's early. It's endless. He knows it's nearing the end of August. For one thing, the air around them is warm, but not too warm yet.
And she's as pregnant as she ever will be.
It's only days before Death comes, he knows, but he ignores it, ignores it all as he simply drinks her in. Eyes closed, her peaceful face is slightly turned towards him as she lies on her back, the golden aureole of her hair wildly spread over her pillow. He knows she's not asleep. There is a small smile on her lips. As she basks in the purest light of all, the untarnished light of dawn, both her hands move slowly over the delicate yet very prominent curve of her stomach, up…and down…up…and down…up…and down…
He wonders if she's seeing these colors she has mentioned before.
When she opens her eyes and meets his gaze, her smile widens, and her hands stop their slow caress. Her lips move, then, as she murmurs a word. But the sound has faded from his memory. He remembers the word, though, and he knows her voice so well that his mind simply conjures it, and it echoes softly in the air, only a second after she has said it, adding to the ethereal quality of this moment.
And he looks, as one of her hands comes back to rest on her round stomach, on one specific spot, and she starts drumming her fingers for a few seconds; she then places her hand lower on her bump, waiting. He watches and watches, waiting too, and just when he is about to look up at her questioningly, he sees it. The tense skin quivers and moves, rippling from a definite movement beneath it. When it stops, he finally raises his gaze to meet her twinkling eyes; she's practically grinning now, and she looks so serene and young and happy. He has no other choice but to smile, too, and it's his turn to speak, his words reaching their ears a second after they have escaped his lips.
"Definitely a Fringe Event."
When he moves, the mattress is soft and unsubstantial beneath him; it's like swimming into cotton. He swims to her, to them, before pushing himself up on one of his arms, his other hand coming up to cover hers; with his eyes still locked with hers, he presses his lips upon her skin, right where there had been movements a moment ago.
He closes his eyes briefly, then, focusing solely on the guttural aching wave of affection he feels for his unborn child, murmuring that word he had been murmuring to her every day, ever since he had learned about her existence.
When he feels Olivia's fingers in his hair, he opens his eyes again. Her smile is loving and soft, and when she speaks this time, there is no echo. There is no echo, because it isn't part of his memory.
Stroking his hair tenderly, she quietly tells him: "She has your eyes, you know."
Peter wakes up.
When Walter comes by in the morning escorted by two fully armed agents, only to start rambling a bit incomprehensibly and way too excitedly, Peter is not surprised.
After all, the old man is universally known for his inability to let the people he loves just be dead.
But when he splays the drawings over the counter and starts to speak of Olivia as if she were still alive, it's too much for Peter, whose heart has started to bleed even more profusely at the sight of her sleeping face; the accuracy of this drawing has always troubled him. It's simple, and yet there are too many details in it, and so much attention, along with a sort of reverence in the strokes. It has always given him the feeling that she had been drawn by someone who loved her. Which makes absolutely no sense at all, since this drawing was supposedly made millions of years ago.
Little does he know at that instant that Ella is the one who will actually draw it within the next few weeks.
"Walter, stop," he interrupts his dad, and his next words get caught in his throat as he tries to get them out. "Olivia is dead."
Walter almost smiles then, before saying what will change everything: "She won't be…Not then."
Peter doesn't want to listen, he really doesn't. But he's a heartbroken man with a hole in his chest; he's so desperate that he cannot not pay attention to what Walter is suggesting. When his eyes fall on the other set of drawings, though, his blood turns cold in his veins as he reaches for the blueprints.
"The Machine?" The pain intensifies. "I turned that on fifteen years ago-"
He cannot say more. Not a day has gone by without him regretting stepping into that thing, because every horrifying thing that has happened ever since is a direct consequence of his choice, and now, whatever Walter has in mind, it involves using it again and he can't, he just can't. He barely hears what his deranged father says next…until he starts explaining how he believes to be the one who had sent the Machine back through time, to the past.
"Peter, you can stop the destruction before it occurs!"
What Peter feels then isn't hope –there is no more hope for him. It's closer to raw desperation.
"If that's the case, just don't send the Machine back," he finds himself answering. "Then we'll never discover it, and I'll never destroy the Other Universe."
Selfishly enough, he isn't even thinking about the billions people who perished because of him that day, or of his son.
All he can think is: 'Olivia will never die because of me.'
But Walter is categorical, this is not possible. He talks of paradox, of choices, and of consciousness brought from the past, and Peter has a hard time following his line of thought. His 190 IQ is so useless at the moment, because it cannot soothe his broken soul.
Walter, on the other hand, is almost humming with excitement.
"Don't you see? We can change everything. We can cheat the rules of time!"
His smile falters under Peter's dark gaze, the weight of everything he has caused by 'cheating' Nature's most fundamental laws in the past coming back to him. By refusing to accept his son's death, Walter had created a Crack, which in turn had led to the destruction of an entire Universe.
To the undignified death of a woman who had always given all she had to try and save even what couldn't be saved.
And now, Walter is telling him he can change things. Save her.
But he cannot surrender to his pain, can he? He has seen what happens when you disrupt Nature, when you stop thinking rationally to think with your heart. And yet…
"Imagine the repercussions…" He cannot help but say, and they are both too aware of the gravity of his suggestion.
Walter's face crumples, and when he raises his trembling fingers to put them on his son's face, a gesture of comfort Peter can barely stand at that instant, he realizes that his dad knows what he is feeling. Or maybe it is the other way around, Peter finally understanding exactly why Walter did the things he did.
One can go to unimaginable lengths to save a loved one. Another thing Olivia had proved to him, only hours after they first met, letting his crazed father drill a hole in her spine and put her half-naked into a rusty Tank.
The difference between Olivia and Walter had always been the motives behind their actions. Walter had done the unthinkable for very selfish reasons: to get his son back. No kind of love is entirely selfless, but in Olivia's case, it had been. She had rarely thought about the consequences it would have for her, putting herself through terrible ordeals to save the people she loved.
And now, it's Peter's turn to make a choice.
"There's no way of telling what the cost might be," Walter says then, and they both know it's a lie. Despite their grief, they are geniuses, their brains making all the right correlations in a matter of seconds.
And really, it doesn't take a genius to understand what would happen if you went back in time and drastically changed the future.
You cannot exist if the timeline you came from never existed either.
But his existence is irrelevant at the moment, so utterly irrelevant.
Peter had realized years ago that he would willingly give up his life to simply make Olivia's pain stop. Though the memory of that day hasn't been unaffected by the passage of time, he still remembers it all too well. What he remembers the most is the feeling of his insides shaking with the force of her sobs; he remembers the quiet desperation in her eyes, as they stared into each other's souls.
If someone had told him back then that he had the power to make it stop, and that all it would take was his life, he would have done it.
There is no limit to what he is willing to do now, to make her heart start beating again. To make her breathe. To make her open her eyes, and maybe smile at him.
Yes. If there is one thing he might wish for, in exchange for his life, it is for one more smile.
When Walter speaks next, he knows there will be no turning back.
"It can't be worse than this…" he says, and Peter closes his eyes. "It can't be worse than this."
Peter had thought so, too, that time so many years ago, as they lay crying for each other with no pretense, simply unable to bear the other's pain. He had thought that if they could survive this, they could survive anything, as long as they were together, because things couldn't be worse than this. And in a way, he had been right.
But at the time, he hadn't known what it would feel like, to experience this life without her. And now she's gone.
Olivia is gone, and there is no more hope.
All there is left is a choice.
'Be a better man than your father'
And Peter will be.
This is not about him. This is about the Worlds, and about her.
Mostly, it's about her.
He had always known she would be his redemption.
"What would I need to do?"
When the time comes, there is no regret. In some ways, there is no more pain either.
And incredibly, there is a glimpse of hope, even if it's not for himself. But there is no regret.
He knows things could have been different, should have been different, will be different; he knows there could have been less tears and more laughter. But that's alright, now.
It is somehow comforting to know he won't have to live each day with the fear of feeling her slowly slip away, the details inexorably fading from his mind, no matter how hard he clings to his memories of her.
He doesn't regret the pain either, for all the love he has received in exchange. There is something almost magical in having been loved by someone like Olivia, in having been loved the way she had loved him, and he knows without a doubt that it had been reciprocal.
When he finds himself back into the Machine again, back through time, she's the first thing he sees.
"Peter!" She calls out his name and her voice is filled with relief.
And she's smiling at him.
"Olivia," her name escapes his lips in a rush, and he can hardly believe that she's real; his heart pounds so furiously beneath his chest, pounds with gratitude and exhilaration, and every inch of his being seems to vibrate with joy. "You're alive!"
The sensation increases, then, the energy flooding through his veins, spreading in every cell of his body, and the feeling is familiar, primeval, inherent. He is so deeply entangled with the Machine that he couldn't stop himself from interacting with it even if he wanted to.
The moment has come for him to make his choice.
He doesn't even hesitate.
He stares right into her eyes as he changes the course of time, mixing his lasting feeling of grief with his intense relief, just looking at her, alive and sound, and she stares back at him, the shadow of her smile still on her lips.
In his mind, he imagines her heart and his own, both bruised and broken, bleeding. And then he pictures them mending themselves, blending together, melding and healing, becoming one.
Two Universes, one heart, one soul.
The way they have always been.
And then, Peter isn't anymore. He simply ceases to be.
His entire existence is erased with a blink of an eye, with a breath of wind, and so are the memories of him, that mere seconds ago were still deeply engraved in all of these people's minds.
He has become less than the fleeting, intangible feeling one may get upon awaking.
He leaves his lover's heart as quietly as he has known Death to come at times, but he leaves her free of the throbbing ache of grief.
He was never there for her to grief in the first place.
All that he leaves in his wake is that serene feeling in her soul, inexplicable but there, the certainty that comes with unconsciously knowing that somehow, somewhere, at some point, she had been loved by someone. She had been loved so strongly that this someone had given up everything so she could breathe again, live again.
She had been half of a whole, once. This knowledge will never leave her, rooting so deep within her, like a seed with thorns hiding in a corner of her heart.
Who knows. If she nurtures it with each passing day, she might remember his face, someday.
She might remember his name, and the smell of his skin.
Someday, she might just remember him.
A/N: Who knows, reviews from you might help a French fangirl write a new fic very fast :)) One thing for sure, I would love you forever.
Speaking of love, in case you were wondering, the word s'agapo (or Σ' αγαπώ) Peter used in this part means 'I love you' in Greek.
Thank you everyone, see you real soon ;-)
EDIT: I'm writing a companion piece to this story, entitled 'In Time', don't forget to check it out :D