A/N: This Monster drained me. All there is to say is this: it takes place in a hypothetical situation for season 4 where Peter and Olivia are more broken, more bitter, darker (peter has been cast back into existence btw). It also contains smut and a very angsty Peter. Don't forget to review!
"It can't be worse than this."
(Rule of thumb: it can, and always will, get worse)
The words haunt him, the feel of the soft skin of Walter's wrinkled fingers against his cheek like the ghost memory of a lost limb on his flesh. Peter wonders if he'll ever feel such affectionate touch from his father again, see his love and his sorrow entwined to their most basic structures as they flood over his liquid stare. He would laugh, if he could get his voice to go around the lump that his heart has made in it's new residing place, there in the back of his throat, if only to mock their naïveté. They never could learn.
Hubris, it seems, runs in the family.
They'd thought they could cheat time, change the space-time continuum on a whim, the consequences be damned. They had believed themselves all-knowing, victims of a dormant God complex that circumstances had called upon, and they had dragged souls ready to let go into their madness as it rose like a great black beast; their arrogance the like of many a nightmare.
Little did they know, little did he dwell on the consequences of their actions, after the niggardly hope of seeing her alive had been set alight in his heart. He'd ached for her then, how could he not? So he had been blind, and arrogant, and every bit his father's son.
And Father Time, in the end, had cheated them.
He can feel the water beating steadily at his naked flesh, the heavy droplets pelleting angrily at the expanse of his back, his pale skin reddening in the heat. He lays his head against the cool white tiles of the shower wall, rivulets snaking down his neck, his cheeks; making trails for tears he will not shed, mistakes he'll acknowledge but can't regret.
Olivia is alive. She has a future still, and for that he'll take all the pain in the world. He guesses he's feeling it now.
She's out there on her bed, not sleeping (as always), while he chokes in loneliness and despair a door away. She doesn't know him, cannot remember him. None of them can. He has been assigned a sinner's fate, with only the future on his doorstep, and the knowledge of a past that he can't bear to let go of weighing on his shoulders like the world on Atlas'.
For the first time in a very long time he is alone. And he can no longer bring himself to revel in the fact, his running instincts smothered, remnants of a life he'd lived once, a universe away. The romanticized lone wolf was long gone, like ashes in the wind. She'd taken care of that, in another life.
In this one, she uses him. And he lets her.
He figures he owes her that much.
It had begun as it always does with the two of them: there had been a case. Something not related to the other side, for once, but they'd still been too late and a little girl no older that Ella would be had paid for their delay. That two others had suffered the same gruesome fate before he and Walter discovered a working lead had not helped at all. She had been distraught, her anger blazing, and more closed off than he'd ever seen her. This Olivia, the Olivia that had never met him before he'd found himself recast into existence and a part of their investigations little over four months ago, had never learned to let go, had never had another set of shoulders to help her carry the load.
She had been broken, and had mended herself misshapen. She'd never had anyone to hold on to her broken pieces and set her straight; no one to wait. There was no hope in her eyes, no world full of promise in the light of dawn, only darkness.
And so he had taken her hand then, as she left the lab, her shoulders so tense he thought something would snap, and had led her out the heavy metallic doors before she could protest. It had been a gamble, one he knew the stakes of, but could never hope to win. He had never intended to.
In hindsight, he alone is to blame. As usual.
She yanks her hand out of his hold the moment the lab doors close behind them with a bang, her posture stiff, defensive.
"What do you think you're doing?" she says, her voice low, steely. Her 'I – will – not – be – messed – with' stare boring into his eyes in forewarning. He turns towards her fully, eyebrows raised in nonchalance. He shoves his hands in his coat pockets as deep as they will go and shrugs as he starts walking backwards, his eyes never leaving her face. He hopes to hell that his misgivings don't show plainly on his face, he knows no other way to do this.
"I was going to take you for a drink, because you definitely look like you could use one," Peter turns around, keeps walking. His steps slow, measured, the rhythm of his gait not dissimilar from the standard 4/4 count on a music piece. He looks over his shoulder, "but you're allowed to sulk too, if you like."
It's not long before he hears her steps following; the steady beating of her no nonsense boots against the ground the perfect complement to his music piece. Two independent beats synchronized to perfect pitch in their closeness, as it has always been. He feels a smile spread itself across his face; she never could pass up a challenge.
(He can't deny that it comforts him to know that her details haven't changed, that parts of her life might have gone differently yet she remains the same, buried deep beneath the surface)
He lets her catch up to him, his pace deliberately slow as he makes his way through the familiar hallways of the Kresge building and into the chill air of a mid-winter night. He hates the cold. He can feel her fidget beside him, her posture tense, expectant. She doesn't know what to look forward to where he's concerned, not here, not yet; and Olivia Dunham has never liked being blindsided.
"So, I guess we're taking my car then," she says, her tone flat, her face a carefully crafted mask of indifference that would have dissuaded him from trying anything, once. But that was a long time ago, in his book.
"Car?" he snorts, a sardonic grin at the ready as he looks back at her, fishing his cellphone out of his pants. He can wear masks too, perhaps better than she'd like. Or imagine, "Honey, I'm calling us a cab, I have seen you with a Whiskey bottle." He berates himself the moment the words leave his mouth, ready for what is sure to be her angry rebuttal. She's not his honey. Not this time.
She's not his anything.
Instead, he is answered by her raised eyebrows, her green stare too tired to feel anything as she shrugs, unimpressed. She looks weary, exhausted, not at all what he has long since learned to expect, and he debates with himself if it wouldn't be better to just take her home, let her get some sleep. He almost misses her anger then, the expression live fire in her eyes instead of the muted, slate green looking back at him now. He drags his eyes away, bites back a sigh, brings the phone to his ear and dials.
It doesn't take the cab long to pick them up.
"So, where are we going?" Olivia asks in half – hearted annoyance, looking at the man climbing in beside her through the corner of her eye as he gives an address she doesn't recognize to the driver, studying him for the hundredth time. He is by no means unpleasant to the eyes, his large frame graceful and smooth in motion, elegant at rest, always poised for instant response at anything happening in his surroundings. She would admit, if she were in the habit of being honest with herself, that she likes his mind, the unique way he seems to treat the world as his own private puzzle. She would even say some part of her enjoys his dry sarcasm, even if it makes her want to thump him upside the head every time he opens his mouth.
He's dangerous, and she doesn't do well with dangerous, not outside of the job.
But she never learned not to play with fire.
"You'll see," he says, not missing the way she rolls her eyes minutely at him, exasperated by his lack of elaboration; he bites back a grin, "there's no point in ruining the surprise."
"I don't like surprises."
"Learn to like new things," he looks out the window, rubbing his ring finger absentmindedly, missing a weight he remembers but was never really there. Something else time had denied them. He slumps down on the seat, molding his body to the worn leather and letting the lights hypnotize him away from thoughts of her and all they've lost. He misses the tiny, disconcerted yet amused expression that forms on her face, an almost content visage settling on her features before confusion replaces it not a second later. Misses the myriad of emotions in between, reflected in the world-weary depths of her stare as clear as day.
They don't speak much more after that and the silence is easy, comfortable. He can't help but sneak glances at her, catalogue her posture. It seems they never need words, no matter the iteration of time he finds himself in. And that's fine, but it's not the same. It will never be the same again, and he understands. He's made his peace with it. That doesn't mean it lessens the hurt.
He sighs, missing her even though she's right beside him.
The bar is small and cozy, if slightly run-down at first glance. It is nowhere near any place that she would usually frequent but he seems to know this already by the expectant glance he casts in her direction as he holds the door open for her, letting the welcomed blast of heat bathe her chilled frame as she steps inside. There's a retro feeling to it, a sense of timelessness, like it belongs on its own bubble; the dimly lit ambience self-contained inside the mahogany colored, soundproofed walls and liable to vanish into thin air once outside the door.
She looks around, observant, cataloguing anything and everything around her as he leads her to a polished oaken table at the far end of the room, to the left of the stage where a lively jazz quartet begins their performance for the night, the melody soft and melancholy, much like the man that takes his place across from her on the table, setting their previously discarded coats and scarves on the washed-out red leather of the seat beside him. She likes it, she decides.
She's aware of his stare, he knows, has been ever since he fixed his eyes on her as they entered the place, observing her reaction to her surroundings, practically feeling the tension ebb away from her in measured steps. Her posture more relaxed, at ease. It brings the first real smile to his face in what feels like forever, the slight crow's feet on the corners of his eyes crinkling slightly with the motion.
Peter stands, touches her arm with his fingertips to bring her eyes back to his, distracting them from their resting place on the baby grand piano at the back of the stage, feeling her startle at the contact before zeroing in on him with an inquisitive glance, head cocked to the side slightly in appraisal.
"Ready for some drinks?" he asks, his voice barely audible above the round sounds of the music that floods their senses. She nods, the movement simple, concise, before realizing, as she looks at his retreating back, that he never bothered to ask what she was drinking.
He brings her her favorite, and another for good measure; and then another after that.
"So tell me, how does an MIT chemist come to know of places like this one?" she asks from across the table what he estimates to be three, maybe four hours later, the alcohol giving free reign to her inquisitive nature. She's not drunk yet, not by far, maybe halfway to tipsy if he were to hazard a guess, but the easy, noncommittal companionship and the homey atmosphere allows her to relax enough to consciously give in to her curiosity; her forearms digging into the polished wood as they hold her weight on the table, her body unconsciously leaning in his direction. The jazz also helps.
He knows all this, knows it's one of the various reasons he led her here, to this place. He'd brought her here on their first anniversary after they had decreed, by mutual agreement, that fancy restaurants would just not cut it. She had been delighted and he'd made a tradition of it, willing it to be a place they could escape to from the horrors they battled every sunrise.
He struggles not to let his thoughts linger on a future that was but will never be. Reminds himself of the reasons he'd had to make it change, but it's hard when he has her in the flesh right in front of him, yet a timeline apart. He also has fifteen years of memories in his brain that rob him of any semblance of peace he might have hoped to achieve, once. He's going to rub his finger raw if he keeps tracing the place where his wedding band should be.
If asked he wouldn't necessarily call his intentions pure, but he will never do anything to bring her harm, if he can help it. He only wants to see her smile, see her relax for a couple of hours, show her she can trust him despite her misgivings. Lost time may never be found, but he'll make up for it as best he can. He has three years to catch up to. He's also not above manipulating the situation to achieve it, which is precisely what he's doing now. He can almost see the reproaching roll of her eyes in his mind, the glint of annoyance shinning through the brimming affection at his antiques, but the memory fades before he can grasp at it, like sand running through his fingers, to be replaced with the ever so slightly flushed face of Agent Dunham before him.
Some part of him realizes that he's mourning her still, mourning the life they lost, but he'd rather not dwell on that. She's alive, he reminds himself, and that is all that matters.
"Well, let's just say that this particular chemist hasn't always been on the right side of the law," he says, trying to cut it as close to the truth in the tapestry of necessary lies he's woven, smirking as he watches her cock her eyebrow at him while she sips from her newly begun bottle of beer (some local brewery brand whose name he cant quite remember), her face impassive, "there's a back room over there," he points to the corner across from them, where she can easily discern a crack in the pattern of the wall, a badly concealed door, "that's where the really interesting stuff used to happen."
She snorts in derision, yet her eyes are amused.
"Let me guess," she says detachedly, downing a generous gulp from the bottle and grabbing the next one on the line of perfectly aligned shots in front of them, inviting him to mirror her with a tilt of the glass in his direction, "Drugs?" he laughs.
God, he's missed her.
"I can see why that would be your logical conclusion," he concedes. He thinks of Walter and basement – engineered LSD and follows her example with his next drink, downing it quickly, wishing it could burn his memories away the way it burns the back of his throat, a grim smile on his face, "but no, nothing as crass as that."
"Oh?" she says, her interest peaked, awaiting an explanation that she somehow, incongruently, knows will come.
"It's a poker room," he elaborates, gesticulating towards her in explanation, bottle in hand, "or was, I wouldn't know any longer. Very high stakes, extremely ugly men." She laughs at that, a small laugh, her voice low, throaty. He's reminded of just how far he's willing to go for that smile, how far he has already gone. Walter had been a saint, compared to him.
"What did you do it for, the thrill?" she asks, seeking to prolong the conversation. She might have been a little bit more far gone that he'd thought at first. Perhaps all the way to tipsy this once. His head isn't much better, but it's a pleasant buzz, a welcome heat.
"Hardly anyone becomes a criminal for the thrill, and most don't really think they are," he says, his tone more careful, somber, "I needed money."
She nods in acceptance of his explanation and leaves it at that, lets the silence settle as she looks at the amber liquid in her hand, the golden tones mesmerizing, the music beating steadily, as if willing to swallow her whole. Olivia doesn't think she would mind. There's a particular tinge of sadness about him, an air of regret that follows his steps and covers every expression he wears. She wishes she knew what kind of pain afflicts him, and yet realizes that it would probably be best not to meddle. They're not even friends, barely a pair of coworkers having a few drinks to unwind at the end of a very long day. Except the drinks haven't been few, and she doesn't exactly socialize with coworkers, not anymore. She thinks it might have been stupid, coming out here tonight. Stupid to let him see there is more to her than pantsuits and a gun. Unprofessional. But then again he must already know all of this, if Walter's wild theories on the bending of temporal constants are to be believed (not that she understands any of the gobbledygook that tends to gush from his mouth).
She fears the knowledge he might have of her, the amount of information he could use to bring her down that she has not willingly given. She doesn't trust him, not really, not consciously, though part of her wants to (She no longer acknowledges that part of her. It always leads to heartache in the end, and death).
"You said you've seen me with a Whiskey bottle," she starts, looking at him nod his assent, his eyes shrouded, dark, " did we…did we do this often, before?"
He leans forward, sets his chin on his palm, studies her, debating on the best way to give an answer to her question. He wishes he could tell her everything he wants to and not pass by a raving lunatic, but alas, it is not to be. He keeps it simple, unthreatening. He knows how she thinks, what she's really asking behind her words. How much do you know about me? About who I am? How much harm can you cause me and those I love? She would run to the other side and back if he were to tell her the truth. He can't afford to scare her away.
"You could say so, yes," he shrugs, keeping up the charade as best he can, "when the case was particularly difficult to handle. We varied though."
"Varied?" she almost doesn't want to ask, but keeps her voice impassive, neutral, in control.
"We'd eat out sometimes, or just take a walk," he keeps his answers short, to the point, knowing that any reluctance on his part would only make her press harder for a response. Better to let her think him uninterested than have her ask more questions he can't answer.
He stares at her, unblinking, his eyes boring into hers with an intensity brought about by the alcohol, his tolerance still lower than hers, making him more prone to stupid deeds. She looks down, the tiny pull at the corner of her mouth indicating her discomfort at the heat of his gaze. He looks away, changes tactics.
"I've never asked," he starts, his tone lighter as he leans back in his chair, his body used to giving her space, "how are Rachel and Ella?"
The change is immediate, unforeseen. Her shoulders tensing, her back ramrod straight as she clenches her hands into fists on her pantsuit-clad thighs, her already dark gaze watering ever so slightly. It downs on him that this is the inevitable moment where he messes up. He feels the urge to punch something. Time travelling couldn't have come with a handbook, could it?
"Rachel should be fine…I," the waver in her voice is slight as she shakes her head imperceptibly, brushing the corner of her eye with her fingers reflexively, though no tear has fallen. She has no idea why she's telling him this. He's just a stranger, "I need some air." She needs to get out of there. She stands up in a hurry, her movements jittery as she makes her way towards the exit, her rapidly retreating back disappearing behind the Stenciled glass pane of the door without another word. Peter cradles his head in his hands, elbows on the table, and curses.
It wasn't supposed to be like this, but then again he's kidding no one. This is Olivia he's dealing with, and she's always had a way of turning his expectations sideways in the worst ways. There is no planning ahead, not with her. He stands up, throws a couple of twenties on the table as he picks their things up, rushing after her before she freezes to death on the street.
She's shaking slightly when he finds her, not having made it very far down the sidewalk. She hugs herself tightly to ward off the cold, her head thrown back as she looks up at the sky. It's a good thing he's had enough experience around her to predict the amount of time necessary until she's composed herself (he rationalizes that she wouldn't relish having him there as she breaks down in this particular instance. Or ever for that matter), his timing is impeccable, as always.
He stands beside her silently, shivering in the cold, his body close enough for comfort if she wants it. He doubts it. He hands her the heavy woolen coat, waving off her hushed thanks with a nod as he watches her pull it on in one smooth motion, has to fight the impulse to wrap the scarf around her neck himself (he doesn't want to get shot, thank you very much) by rubbing his hands together, creating what little heat he can with the friction between them. He exhales loudly, blowing warmth into his fingers, his breath a misty white cloud dissolving into the night. He doesn't say he's sorry; she wouldn't appreciate the sentiment, or the pity. Mostly, he doesn't tell her he's sorry because he isn't, and he'd rather not lie to her face. He wonders if that makes him a hypocrite, knowing he's lied about everything else; necessary lies, but lies nonetheless. He knows how to bluff her, wear her down, sneak under her defenses, but he won't. It's not a challenge, not a competition. And he knows how to wait.
"Peter," she whispers then, startling him slightly, the quiet evening making her low voice sound incredibly intimate. He thinks this might be the first time he's heard her say his name like that, at least this time around. She never did it often enough, "take me home."
She doesn't look at him, doesn't say anything else, but it comes out tired, defeated, and he's compelled into action. He already has the cab company number on his speed dial anyway, as there's no station wagon to serve as the poor excuse for a car, what with Walter having to return to Saint Claire's every night. It was one of the things that had pained him the most, when he'd found out, but there was also nothing he could do about it. He was just a colleague, as far as they new, and they needed immediate family to get him out. He had none.
He ushers her inside once the car arrives, closing the door behind him and rattling off her address to the driver; she looks at him funny then, but says nothing. He guesses she wonders how he knows it. She's biting her lip like the world depends on it, looking down at her hands in defeat, and he can't possibly imagine what might have happened to make her look like that. Nothing short of the end of the world had ever defeated her. He puts his hand on her thigh then, on impulse, presses gently into her flesh in a gesture of comfort he hopes she understands.
Olivia feels the warmth and pressure of his hand on her and tenses, whipping her head around to glare him off. She is not expecting what she finds. The look on his face is pure, unadulterated worry, his face as sincere as she's ever seen it, bare, raw, no barriers to hide whatever it is behind his eyes, pools of molten blue that call to her, speak in hushed tones of the weight of tragedy behind his stare, of grief, of hopelessness. There are years behind that look, more than he has any right to have lived, and she fights the urge to smooth her hands over the deep line of tension and concern that grazes his forehead, thinking somewhere, in the back of her mind, that her touch must surely be enough. But that makes no sense, so she looks away instead.
"Hey," he murmurs, infinitesimally encouraged by her lack of rebuttal to his actions and the slow, conscious relaxing of her muscles, "Whatever it is, it'll be fine."
She gives a small, broken laugh at that and it chills his bones inside his flesh, but she says nothing, her eyes miles away from the fluorescent lights behind the window. She brings her hand down to his, though, simply lays it there in acceptance of his gesture, a silent thank you that goes unanswered. He's sure she must hear his heart beating, threatening to come out of his chest at the simple pressure of her hand on his, but he does nothing.
He doesn't ask if she's okay, doesn't ask what's wrong. Everything is, in this upside - down version of the world he's created. Everything but her presence, and the feel of her thigh under his palm, her cold hand on his. It's almost as if nothing ever happened, as if he were witnessing the bittersweet early days of his marriage for a second time, in the flesh this once. The feeling hurts, stabs at half-sealed wounds with blazing iron, but it's a good hurt, it is a wound he welcomes.
His patience is rewarded.
She leans her head back against the seat, the pressure on her thigh relaxing, comfortable; suffusing warmth she thought she'd lost into her veins. His presence is quiet, constant, unrelenting. It makes it so she can't ignore the pull he seems to exert over her, ever since she met him, a magnetic sway that threatens to leave her powerless. It's too much to take, too much to fight right then. She breaks.
"We had a case a few years back," she starts, her hushed voice incredibly steady, feeling him shift towards her in acknowledgement, "one of the earliest ones. This guy was frying people's brains with some sequence of images he'd send to their computers…" she breaks off, feels his hand tense slightly but refrains from looking. She misses the compulsive bobbing of his Adam's apple as he swallows, remembering the mad dash to her house when he'd found her to be the next victim, fearing where this tale might be going, his brain working at full speed to the only conclusion that could have left her as affected.
"He knew I was point in the investigation, sent it to my laptop to try and stop me but…" her voice breaks and she tightens her hold on his hand on instinct, "it wasn't me he got."
Ella, he realizes, the bastard had gotten Ella and she had been powerless to stop it. She hadn't known, couldn't have known when he hadn't been there to warn her, to tell her that the file was being downloaded in her apartment. He had been absent, and because of it she'd lost what family she had left. Because of him, she'd never see her niece grow up into a woman. Not this time.
"I haven't had a real conversation with my sister ever since," she finishes softly, the heart wrenching pain of the memories saturating everything around her, he feels her slump back against the seat in something akin to defeat. He can't form words through the lump that has taken over his throat, his vocal cords useless. For once, he doesn't know what to say, what to do.
Just then, as if on cue, the Taxi comes to a stop, the lights at the entrance of her building the only illumination on the sidewalk. She tenses, as if waking from stupor with a start, and removes her hand from his. He takes it as his signal to remove his touch from her, opening the door and asking the cabbie to wait as she makes her way past him and up the steps.
He accompanies her to the door, thinking it the least he can do after butchering her evening, and stands there awkwardly as she makes her way inside, turning to look at him for the first time since the bar. Peter could get lost in those eyes and never come out, if only the world gave him the chance.
"Thank you…for everything," she says, her expression somewhat ashamed and so very Olivia that it makes him ache. He snorts, tries to lighten the mood before he does something stupid. He's very good at stupid.
"Are you kidding? I ruined your evening," he takes satisfaction in the slight curving of her mouth as she hears this, it's sad and not quite a smile but it's sincere, and more that he thought he would see. It's enough, for tonight.
"I guess you kind of did," she shrugs, studying him, noticing the way he braces himself against the jamb, as if he needs a physical barrier to avoid coming closer. He keeps rubbing his finger nervously too, and she thinks that maybe she's not the only one feeling slightly out of whack with all of this. The knowledge comforts her, but she had enjoyed herself for the most part, against all her expectations, the pleasant buzz of the alcohol still shrouding her thoughts, taking the edge away. He has a way of making the world disappear for a moment, a vibrancy to him that shines through his darkness, and she envies him that.
He shakes his head, trying to keep himself from reaching out to her. He really should leave now, diminish his possibilities for further mess-ups, but she hasn't moved to close the door and he can't really make his feet move. She looks away, growing uncomfortable, restless. She's never been very good in awkward situations, always too self-conscious to fully relax, but his presence is calming, his warmth contagious. She's tired of being alone.
She closes the space between them, acting on impulse, and presses her lips to his, a slight though firm brushing, the movement minimal. He tenses, steps back unsteadily and looks down at her, his expression blank if not for the confused wrinkling of his brow, his jaw slack. Shocked.
"Olivia?" he asks, breathless. He needs to get out of here as fast as he can, get away from her before this escalates into something he can't control; get out, get out he tells himself. She's lonely and drunk and she'll regret it in the morning.
She steps back as if burned, brushing her hair back in distress, looking anywhere but at him, embarrassment giving a lovely red tinge to her cheeks.
"I'm sorry," she chokes out in a hurry, "I thought…" what had she thought? What had she hoped to accomplish with such an idiotic move? She asks herself. She's in serious need of a check up if she somehow interpreted his actions as something other than comfort. They'd been partners once, in another version of her timeline; that was all she'd gotten from him. Judging from his response that was all they had ever been, "I'm sorry, I don't know why I did that."
He closes his eyes and curses, curses all the deities he knows for not giving him the ability to deny her, nor the wisdom to back off. This is a mistake, he knows, one he will regret. One she might never forgive him for. But he's always been good at doing what he's not supposed to, it's what he does best.
There is an order for Stupid coming up.
He steps towards her across the threshold, cups her face in his hand, hears her breath stutter for a second at the contact, her skin silken on his fingers, familiar. The moment feels infinite, like that second right before jumping off a cliff, the adrenaline widening his vision, everything around him in slow motion as he brings their faces close enough to share her breath; it goes like this: inhale and take the very air from her lungs, exhale…and he jumps. Her response is immediate, surprised as she braces herself against his chest, her hands clutching blindly at the lapels of his pea coat, high up around his neck as she closes the door behind him with a slight shove of her foot.
His kiss is sloppy, hungry, desperate, sincere. He holds nothing back, doesn't think he could even if he wanted to, as he walks her backwards in the direction of her bedroom. It doesn't even hit her that he knows exactly how to get there, even though he's never been in her apartment; there isn't much room for coherent thought in her head at the moment, with his hands occupied in divesting her of her clothes as fast as he can, his lips kissing, biting, caressing every inch of her upper body in his wake. He somehow manages to remove her garments with a delicacy and care that should be impossible to manage in his haste, and leaves a flutter in her chest, a particular unsteadiness in her movements that confounds her quest for skin beneath his undershirt, his button – up and coat long gone, lying strewn somewhere in the hallway. She must be at least twice as naked as he by now (her coordination skills are far from deficient, but the man wears too much clothing) with such dedication from his part.
He handles her with care, as if afraid she might break under his fingers, rough digits roaming the surface of her skin and igniting long forgotten responses to sensations long denied from deep inside herself, yet his touch is intense, frantic, the give of her flesh essential, as if he can't quite believe she's really there. He's contradictory, confusing, and she can only hope to match his fervor, trying to meet him move for move, touch for touch, but it's too much, too fast, the world spinning above her head in a not so figurative sense. Before long she finds herself lying sprawled on her bed, his body covering her like a living blanket, his hands woven in her hair, holding her leg up to his waist, his palm splayed under her calf just below the thin skin on the back of her knee, as if purposefully avoiding it (She's particularly ticklish there, but it's ridiculous to think he even knows it).
He's poised, coiled in anticipation, his body pressed to every available surface of her flesh, his weight bearing her down into the mattress just right, just enough to let her breathe yet feel every contraction of his muscles beneath his skin; but she feels incongruous, and slightly out of sync, as if time had jumped ahead for a minute and she'd been left behind. She can't remember when, amongst the flurry of hands, and teeth and tongues, they'd gotten to this point. She brings her wandering hands to his chest, pushes him slightly, just enough for his sex-addled mind to register the pressure and make him raise himself from her slightly, looking down at her in confusion.
"Something wrong?" he asks, his voice an octave lower, breathy as it ghosts over her lips. She shakes her head, simply looking at him above her, her mind absorbing the sight yet incapable of processing it, as if she'd been drugged with something. She writes it off as being simply overwhelmed, it's been a very long time since she's let someone in her bed. Not since she began working on Fringe Division. Not since John.
But she can't think of John, not here, not now. So she looks up into his eyes, sees the raging fire in them, the unspoken emotion behind his irises that she can't quite bring herself to acknowledge, and lets it consume her, bringing him back down, gathering him to her with legs hitched behind his thighs. He complies, moves downwards and forwards, and she thinks nothing else.
Afterwards, he curls on her side, his forehead on her shoulder, his arm holding her to him from across her stomach, their chests heaving. She can't bring herself to move away, not while he's awake. They don't speak, him more because she doesn't than because he has nothing to say, giving her mind some space, her because she doesn't think she can form words right now that wouldn't hurt them both. He gives her shoulder a peck before falling away into sleep, and she fists her hand in her sheets in frustration because all she wants is to move closer still and wrap herself around him as he sleeps (she's known him for two miserable months, but it feels as if he's been there all her life. It's why she had been reluctant to be near him at first). She bites the inside of her lip hard enough to draw blood, the taste of him still on her lips, as she wonders how the hell it came to this. It seems she never learns.
She can't afford to make this mistake again.
He wakes up hours later, the sheets beside him cold, forgotten. He rolls unto his back, looks around for her to find nothing but empty space and her absence in the air. He sits up, swings his legs over the side and walks to the edge of the bed, puts his boxers on as he meticulously inspects the room, looking for changes. He's only warding off the inevitable, he knows. He goes in search of her, after a while.
She's sitting at her kitchen table, nursing a cup of newly brewed coffee between her palms. She wears pajamas, drawstring sweats and a practical black tank top. He knows she hasn't slept, wonders how long she waited before she moved away, once he convinced himself he could indulge a little more and fall asleep beside her. Wonders how he'd managed to fool himself into the belief that, come the morning, all would be well. It's not like he's really surprised, he's always been good at self – delusion.
He walks up to her, puts his hand on her shoulder, feels her body flinch away. He knows it's not surprise, she's been aware of him since he'd walked through the kitchen door. He identifies it as rejection, and discomfort. She's reacted this way to his touch only once before, on a garden in the wee hours of the night a lifetime away, but he's been guilty on both counts. At least this time he'd been aware of who it was, moving under him. The thought doesn't bring him much comfort.
It's time for reckoning, it seems.
He knew this would come, as he made the split-second decision of giving in to her (though he'd made that decision long ago, in another place, another time, a universe over) and walked through the threshold, mere hours before. Still, he wonders why he can feel his heart breaking, a little to left inside his chest. He should be impervious to these things by now, but nothing could ever prepare him for her. He sighs.
He comes around to sit partially on the table, facing her, his thigh resting over the cool surface almost casually. All it takes now is to wait; he knows she won't disappoint. It's all his fault anyway, it always is.
"Would you like some coffee?" she asks, her voice tight, her eyes stuck to the murky depths of the liquid in her mug. Black, one sugar, he remembers. How could he forget?
"No, thank you." He says, his voice deep, tired, his tone business. He doesn't want to play games, not really. Let her say what she wants so he can go drink her weight in alcohol in the solitude of his tiny, FBI procured apartment. He wants to celebrate his failure in style.
"Peter," she says, her posture stiff, her shoulders straightening. It doesn't matter that she's in pajamas, in the middle of her kitchen after having had sex with him only hours ago, this in front of him is Agent Dunham. It has been years since he last saw her, and he can't really say he misses her. It's Olivia he wants, Olivia he gave his life to, but he has no say this time around, "This never happened."
Her voice is cool, collected, and he knows, by the hard green eyes meeting his stare, that she's not asking. He's being given an order. But he's never been a very good soldier, unlike her. He's always tended more towards insubordination than obedience. He raises his eyebrows, standing. There is nothing more to be done here anyway. He knows he'll do anything she says, he's never been able not to, and old dogs can't learn new tricks.
He nods, leaves the kitchen and starts putting his clothes on as he finds them. It doesn't take long until he's at her front door, her figure not having moved from the table; he hesitates before closing after him, stops, looks over his shoulder. There's no one there.
"Good night, Dunham." He says to the wind, the door clicking shut behind him not long after. He'll walk home, he decides. He doesn't know she heard him, clear as day, is not there to witness her shoulders fall as she crumbles into herself, a lone tear fall from the corner of her eye, his words wounding.
She'll go back to bed later that night and clutch her pillow to her face, his scent still there to comfort her. She'll greet the sunrise alone, only the belief of eternal solitude alive in her heart. She's too damaged anyway.
Needless to say it had happened again. And again. And again.
He fists his hands against the wall in his frustration, wondering how he'd let things get so fucked up, so twisted into the misery of their lives. He loves her, loves her for who she is, his knowledge of her independent of how many lives he's lived with her, for her, how much time he's spent under cooling sheets beside her, their bodies tired, spent as they talk and talk, greeting the sunrise without sleep (one life is certainly not enough for the feelings in his chest, and it makes sense. Else the paradox wouldn't hold, and Walter is rarely wrong). He loves her for her selflessness, broken bits and all. Loves her because she's not perfect, because she doesn't try to be. But this, whatever it is that they're doing, is ugly and twisted and it's only hurting them both.
He's never wanted to hurt her, but it seems that no matter what he does he always ends up causing her harm, on more levels than one. All because he hadn't had the courage to say no to her, that one time. He should have left her at the door that night, given her a friend, not a fling.
There's no going back now, and this is all she wants from him, in this reality. He bites back a sob at the thought, wishes she knew just how much more he's willing to give her, how much he's already given, but he's brought this on himself; he has no right to regret anything now. Consequences, consequences, Peter, he reminds himself. It had been a predictable series of events, the easiest chain reaction to be found, the simplest if – then equation to be made. But consequences have always been able to blindside him. It's in his nature, he knows, written in his genetic code and spelling 'Bishop'.
Except he's not a Bishop anymore.
He goes by Peter Rook these days. Not his best alias, unimaginative and dry at best, but he has learned throughout the years that sometimes simple is best. And he can't deny that Astrid's amused face as she remarked on how the division seemed to like chess had made him smile. The woman had a way of making everything better with just a smile, a well-placed comment. It was no wonder Walter had enjoyed her company so much. He still finds it weird to see her handle herself so properly with a gun, but it was only natural that she'd take his place, once he was gone. He has no qualms with the role of assistant (though the seamless reversal of their places amuses him); it gives him time with the man he used to call his father, but it makes him anxious to be away from her, not guarding her back when she's putting her life on the line every day.
He shivers, not having noticed before that moment that the water had gone cold a while ago, too immersed in memories and thoughts to pay attention. He finishes rinsing himself, turns the water off as he makes his way out of the shower, finds himself in front her mirror, a man looking back at him that he's not sure he should recognize. There should be more white in his hair, more wrinkles in his face. He shakes his head, he forgets himself at times, forgets he witnessed that life, not lived it. Wonders how she managed to keep the memories and different personas apart inside her head, after all the times she got taken over, shaped into someone else. He has always believed her capable of the impossible, so he guesses it doesn't surprise him as much. He never could compare to her, never wanted to. He looks down at himself, finds that he's thinner than he remembers, his stubble longer, his appearance scruffier, wonders what she sees when she looks at him now.
Probably nothing special, though she has not yet kicked him to the curve (or has she? He has to ask himself. After all, she never asks him to stay. She never asks him to go either) so he guesses she can't really be that disgusted.
He wraps the towel around his waist, goes out into the bedroom, the steam from the shower escaping its confines after him like a companion. She's sitting on the edge of the bed, just a sheet covering her nakedness, her stare miles away. She doesn't acknowledge him, he doesn't think she's even realized he's there. He stops, looks at her, surprised. She would usually pretend to be asleep, give him time to either fall asleep himself or gather his things and go. He always chooses the latter after that first time. He's never liked to make her uncomfortable. He shakes his head, says nothing. She'll talk if she wants to. Not that there's ever much talking between them, outside of work. They still do that pretty well, their dynamic unchanged except for the fact that he's no longer in the field. They know how to be professional, her more than him. He gathers his clothes, dresses.
He sits beside her on the bed, brushing his still – wet hair away from his forehead, feels her eyes follow him behind half-closed eyelids. He rubs his finger in circles incessantly, wondering when he'll finally rub it raw.
"Are you married?" she asks him out of the blue, and he feels like he's just being included in a conversation that started some time ago in her head. She does that pretty often. Or used to. The question takes him aback, his heart jumping to his throat, stopping for a second. She's looking at him now, her gaze intense.
"Why do you ask?" he says, more than a little curious about her line of thought. He doesn't think she wants the answer, not if she has any inkling of an idea about the truth behind her question.
"You do that when you're worried, or pensive," she points to his finger, his rubbing motion stopped under her eyes, "I've only ever seen married people do that before. Or regretful divorcees" he resist the urge to laugh in disconcert, someone should really commend her observation skills. He always found that attractive about her. But then again there was little about Olivia Dunham that he had not, at some point or another, considered attractive.
"I…was, yes." He answers shortly, uncomfortable. It's the best answer he can give without confusing her, or himself (He had been married, just not on the latest iteration of what used to be a closed time circuit, running over and over again in the same direction). He feels the urge to run blossom in his chest for the first time in a very long time. He smothers it down. He's not a runner anymore.
"What made you leave her?" she asks, her voice quiet. He laughs, and it sounds more like he's choking than anything produced by amusement. The sound raises goose bumps in her flesh, the shivering compulsive. He looks at her directly then, his eyes dark pits of despair, his eyelashes wet, and her breath hitches for an imperceptible moment.
"A bullet in the middle of her forehead," He answers, his voice breaking, the image of her cold, lifeless body in the morgue superimposing itself over her figure for a moment, "It's rather effective. More than you'd think."
She looks away from him, brushes her tangled hair away from her face with her hands, not knowing what to do with herself. She's embarrassed, ashamed that her first thought had been of such a nature, cursing her curiosity for putting her in this situation. What does she care if he'd been married, if he still is? His wife probably wouldn't know him anyway, not after his timeline changed. She revises that thought, her heart heavy, aching for him. Even if she were alive here, now, she wouldn't know him, wouldn't recognize him. She doesn't blame him for trying to seek comfort with her, though she reckons she can give little. Wonders if all he wants is to forget, if it's the reason he keeps coming back, night after night. It's not like she's very good company to be around, but she thanks him for being there. She's grateful, among a lot of other things she's reluctant to name, reluctant even to acknowledge, that relate to him and to the way he makes her feel when he stays a little longer, lingers in the doorway.
"I'm sorry," she murmurs, feeling the pain oozing from his pores still, and she really is. She gives in to impulse and presses her hand to his cheek, running her fingers through his beard, feeling him lean against her touch like a puppy being caressed. He pulls away then, and comes around to kneel in front of her, their heights matched from their positions. He brushes her cheek with the back of his hand softly, grabbing her chin. She feels the wetness falling from his eyes against her skin the moment he touches his lips to hers, the kiss brief yet lingering.
"Don't be," he says then, getting up. He's at the bedroom's door before she can make the words come out of her throat through the lump that now resides there, the feel of his lips burning still on her flesh, his tears fire.
"Have you looked for her, here?"
"I didn't need to," he says, a sad smile gracing his face as he turns to look at her, his eyes infinite, hand lingering on the doorjamb, " you always find me, Olivia."
He leaves without looking back, the door clicking softly behind him in the dark. He leaves but his heart lingers, remains with her, where she's always had it. He knows she'll take good care of it; there might be hope for them still. He'll be back soon enough.
Olivia doesn't know it yet, but Peter is observant. Peter is patient, and resilient as time itself. Peter can wait.
He's defied time for her once before, he will do it again. He'll be there, stand its wear, and at some point (perhaps tomorrow, perhaps years down the road) he won't have to wait any longer: she'll find her way to him.
And they will both realize that she never left.