A/N: Thank you all so very much for your reviews :') It made me all kind of emotional to know so many of you were still looking forward to reading more of this, I actually wrote the first draft of this the following day, after I posted the last chapter. Reviews are like magical, motivating cookies xD
Olivia stands in the shower, her bare back pressed against the tiles, as the scorching water relentlessly splashes the ground, a couple of feet away from them. She feels clammy and hot, wearing nothing but her underwear. The steam has opened up every pore on her skin and has turned her hair into a damp, heavy mass upon her shoulders.
Against her chest, Nathan breathes laboriously. His body is so limp that he feels heavier than usual in her arms. It does nothing to calm her fears.
He is by no mean a very active child to begin with; at eight months old, he still hasn't shown any inclination towards physical activities, such as crawling. Ever since his birth, he's been reaching most milestones early, an obvious sign that he has inherited his father's brain and probably his IQ, but his very quiet nature is not conductive to being interested in exploring the world on his hands and knees.
He moves around on the ground just fine if he needs to, going from one toy to the other on his own, but if they were to leave him alone in a room for whatever reason –which never happens, he wouldn't use that opportunity to try climbing on anything climbable. Olivia has never been worried about this; she already knew while pregnant that he would be a calm baby, and she sure isn't going to complain about the fact that he enjoys playing with blocks and looking at his picture books more than trying to break his neck by being adventurous.
Nathan is a sweet, cuddly, and quiet child, but there is a big different between being calm and being lethargic.
His fever simply refuses to break, and she worries about that alright.
His pediatrician had warned them that their son would probably become more susceptible to germs once she stopped breastfeeding him, as her body wouldn't be providing him with the antibodies he might have been using until now. This warning had not prepared them for the reality of it, nor for how distressing it would turn out to be.
If it had been up to her, Olivia would have kept on breastfeeding him until he was at least a year old, but like many other aspects of her life, the choice hadn't been entirely hers. With her job and the insane hours she was often pulling, he had already been feeding on pumped milk, formula and steamed food for the most part, as she rarely got a chance to do it herself anymore, once a day if she was lucky. But she had never been a lucky person.
In May, right after Nathan had turned six months old, she'd had no other choice but to go to Europe for that mandatory, annual meeting, during which Fringe Division agents from all around the world meet to discuss the fate of their universe. The five days she'd had to spend away from home had finally settled the issue.
She had been absolutely miserable the whole time, spending each day discussing the increasing degradation of their world, absolutely everywhere now, and how helpless they were to stop it. Most of all, she had been weaning her son from a distance, missing him and Peter terribly.
By the time she was coming home, Nathan was already coming down with his very first cold.
For as long as he had lived, his health had always been remarkable. Now, he doesn't seem to go more than a few days before his nose gets runny again, his eyes glassy and teary. He also gets grumpier than usual, which is understandable, but mostly, it simply makes him want to snuggle even more. This new health development has been surprising, and all kind of daunting, but so far, Olivia has managed to think about it rationally enough, accepting that it is not uncommon, nor is it life-threatening.
This time, however, it's worse.
His chest is congested, and the sound of his cough terrifies her, just like this fever of his. It started earlier today, and it only goes down for a little while, about thirty minutes after giving him proper medication. It is never high enough to be dangerous and make them take him to the ER, but at this point, anything making her son feel miserable is like torture to her.
She won't be able to relax until they get him to his doctor, first thing in the morning. Peter has already called of course, and talked to the nurse on call, who had listened to the symptoms and assured them that as long as the fever didn't reach more alarming numbers, or that he started refusing to drink, they could wait until the doctor came in. It was she who suggested to turn the shower into a steam room and take him in there, explaining that it would help opening up his airways. All the nurses know them well by now, as Olivia has taken the habit of calling the doctor's office quite often; she has been told it is not an unusual behavior for first time mothers.
She guesses it is probably even more understandable when you really are a 'second time' mother, but you never got to experience any of the scary aspects of motherhood the first time around, because your baby died before she was even born.
As she rocks him soothingly, humming a lullaby in his ear over the sound of the falling water, she cannot help but think of Rachel, again and again. She's been doing it a lot, lately, long before the fourth anniversary of her death came around the previous week.
She often finds herself wishing for her sister, longing for her in brand new ways; she knows she would have been able to offer her precious and useful advice on how to raise a child. Even after eight months of this, Olivia still doesn't have the faintest idea what she's supposed to do, especially in cases like this, when her inexperience opens up the door for all of her insecurities to creep right back in. She feels like she lacks what Rachel had seemed to possess naturally.
Once, before Ella was even two-years-old, Olivia was supposed to babysit her for a couple of days. After only a few hours, though, the girl had suddenly developed a potent fever. It had been scary alright, but the moment Rachel had come back, she had taken over with such ease and confidence, apparently knowing exactly what to do, talking about teething and possible ear infection. What Olivia remembers the most about that day is the feeling of intense relief she had felt when she had relegated her niece to her sister, freeing herself from that smothering responsibility.
But the responsibility is all hers, now. Even Peter's unwavering presence, knowledge and help, cannot ease her mind, her chest crushed with worry. She is so aware of how, as his mother, Nathan's well-being depends entirely on her, and she feels absolutely helpless.
She almost jumps at the sound of three gentle knocks on the glass door.
Moving carefully, mindful of the wet, slippery floor, she reaches for it and opens it, barely, not wanting to let too much of the steam escape their enclosed space. She is surprised to find Peter fully dressed in his 'agent' outfit; it's past 2am. She doesn't have to ask, her confusion evident enough.
"We just got called in. There was Class Five breach in the Bronx."
"I can't go," she immediately replies, almost defiantly, a possessive hand massaging her baby's back again, feeling the rumble of his lungs under her palm.
"I know," he says gravely with a tilt of his head. "And I don't expect you to, I just wanted to let you know. They're requesting me. Looks like another one of these new vortexes."
She tries to feel some worry at the thought; in the past six months, a new, startling kind of vortexes has started to bloom. What is so peculiar about them is that it looks like people are purposefully creating these, as if trying to accelerate the degradation of their world.
She tries, but Olivia cannot find it in herself to be concerned about anything beside her child, right now.
"Okay," she simply says. "Be careful, Peter."
"I will," he promises, his eyes now on Nathan. "How is he?"
She shakes her head, swallowing hard. "I don't think I'll be able to stay in there for much longer, he's already getting warmer, and there's over two hours to go before I can give him more Motrin."
Peter opens the door just a little more so he can lean down and kiss his son's flushed face. He then does the same on Olivia's damp cheek, lingering there a second longer, before assuring her with confident look: "It's gonna be alright."
It won't be alright until my baby gets better, she wants to say, but she nods instead.
"Wish me luck," he adds, and she forces herself to smile at him, her usual response to this old exchange.
Once Peter has gone, she tries to stay in the shower, aware that it is easing Nathan's breathing, but by then, she is almost able to feel the increasing temperature of her son's body against hers. She eventually has to give up, leaving the steaming shower and grabbing a thick towel to cover them both.
She takes him back to his room, keeping the light low. As she lays him on his changing table and begins drying the dampness off his skin, she continues to speak softly to him; he's half-awake, or maybe half-asleep, gazing up at her through blurry, feverish eyes. Despite her pounding heart and the fear clutching her insides, Nathan remains incredibly calm in her mind.
She knows her presence alone is enough to make him feel safe, and that knowledge only makes her feel worse, almost ashamed of her inability to physically make him feel any better.
He is so warm, too warm, his body shaken by small tremors. Still, she smiles at him and sings softly, slightly relieved when he takes a few good gulps from the sippy cup she brings to his mouth. Any kind of relief swiftly disappears when she checks his temperature again. It immediately shoots into the 100s; even though it still hasn't reached 'dangerous numbers', it's enough to increase her panic. She still has a couple of hours to wait before she can give him any more medicine, what if it keeps on climbing?
Her heart is now lodged in her throat, thumping hard, unable to think of ways to help him. She briefly think about drawing him a bath to make the fever go down, but the idea is suddenly pushed away by something else, an unexpected urge taking over her.
Just keeps him against you, a voice instructs her, a voice that doesn't even sound like her own, coming from somewhere deep within herself. Keep him against you and relax, like you used to do.
She doesn't fight the voice, yielding to this impulse almost immediately, as if on auto-pilot. Aware of the discomfort he would feel with clothes, she only wraps a new diaper around him, still wearing nothing but her underwear herself. She sits down in the rocking chair, draping a blanket over them both, keeping their bodies pressed together. With his nose into her neck, Nathan is asleep in a matter of moments after she begins rocking, his breathing still raspy and labored, his skin burning against her own.
She rocks and rocks and rocks, letting the familiar serenity of his sleeping thoughts invade her head. Usually, she keeps them at a distance. Ever since his birth, despite the tight and unique bond that exists between them, she has kept herself from exerting the kind of symbiosis she used to share with him when she was pregnant, somehow aware that some lines needed to be drawn; something that powerful never comes without its own set of consequences, good and bad.
She throws all caution to the wind tonight, only wanting to make her baby feel better, to take his pain away. And so she allows her mind to completely meld with his, the way she used to do. Soon she feels the heat of his body seep into hers, their brain waves syncing and harmonizing.
She isn't aware of the moment her trance turns into sleep.
When she feels herself moving, she doesn't exactly wake up. She regains some consciousness, but mostly, her body is too heavy, her brain too foggy, and she feels like her every muscle now aches with inexplicable pain. She's aware of a smell, first, a scent she instantly recognizes; it's the smell of safety and home.
It is mixed with other smells, harsher, bitter –burn, chemicals, amber.
Barely managing to open her eyes, which feel unusually warm in their sockets, she soon realizes that she's in his arms, her face pressed into his neck as he carries her, moments before he puts her down onto their bed. She's freezing, all of the sudden, shaking.
It doesn't matter.
"Nathan," she mumbles, trying to sit up, but her body is too heavy, and she limply falls back into her pillow.
Peter's hands keep her down when she tries moving again, gently yet firmly, bringing the covers over her shivering body. "He's okay, I put him back in his bed so I could bring you here. You're burning up, Olivia."
That much she can tell, now aware enough to understand that she's experiencing some strong fever herself. She wants to tell him she's fine, her usual response to anything concerning her health or state of mind, but she's then shaken by a coughing fit. It has an ugly sound, coming from somewhere deep in her chest. All she manages to do then is shake her head.
"It's been long enough, he can get more medicine," she croaks, suddenly very glad her husband is back.
She would have forced herself back up on her feet to tend to her son, if she'd had to, no matter how miserable she now feels, but she will gladly let Peter take over this time.
She's honestly surprised by how sick she has gotten, in such a short time; she had shown no symptom, no sign of having contracted Nathan's germs. Despite her state, all of her concern is for her son and her son alone.
"Go," she insists, shoving Peter away with a weak hand. And so he goes.
She probably dozes off again, because it barely seems like any time has passed when she feels the deliciously cool sensation of something cold upon her forehead –a wet cloth. She opens her burning eyes, taking Peter in. He looks slightly singe, she notices at last, and she wonders what has happened on the field. She doesn't feel brave enough to ask about it now, needing to hear about her son first.
Peter answers before she can get the words out.
"His fever is completely gone, so is his cough" he says, in an odd voice. "His breathing sounds clear, too. It's like…he was never even sick."
She chuckles at that, relief pouring through her, and it is the most wonderful feeling. But her chuckle swiftly turns into another coughing fit, her breathing anything but clear.
"Good…" she manages to breathe out after she's done coughing, followed by a relieved sigh; she feels like she can sleep at last. Peter studies her, though, his brow deeply furrowed. "What?" she whispers.
He looks confused and troubled, not to mention definitely concerned. "Did you…" he begins, but he never finishes that sentence. It's as if he doesn't dare put this thought into words, maybe unwilling to deal with the implications.
Even in her poor condition, she knows what he was going to ask, just like he already knows the answer.
They both know exactly what she just did. And while all she can feel is pure relief, it is obvious that his emotions on the matter are very different.
She makes herself move, forcing one of her hands up, a very, very heavy hand, briefly resting it upon his cheek.
"I'm fine," she finally manages to say, honestly. "I just need sleep."
Eventually, he nods a little, but his face remains crumpled with unease, even as he takes her hand in his and briefly presses his lips to her clammy palm. He wants to talk about what happened, in their son's room. Maybe they will, once she feels better.
Or, maybe they will not.
It doesn't matter, not to her. All that matters are Peter's words, still echoing in her mind as she drifts into slumber.
"It's like…he was never even sick."
A/N: I plan on exploring this bond of theirs more thoroughly in upcoming chapters, so stick with me :D Did I mention there's gonna be angst? Leave a reviews if you're not shocked :p Thanks for reading guys ;)