A/N: Here comes the third and last part of this story! Sorry for the delay, but shockingly, it's a big part, and I have a job. Haha. (also I've marathoned 5 out of 6 seasons of Lost within a month, but it's irrelevant of course).
Thank you all so much for continuing reading despite the constant pain I put these poor characters through. I guess we're all masochists. I'm hoping this ending will be satisfying ;)
A couple of months ago, Astrid briefly borrowed Peter's phone to install an app 'for dads' on it, meant to inform them week by week about the size of their baby, by comparing it to common objects. A beer cap, a computer mouse, an iPhone...at some point, later on, it would apparently be as big as a pizza –though Peter would like to argue the difference between size and actual mass with whoever made the app.
According to it, Olivia being in her sixteenth week of pregnancy, the baby is now the size of an avocado.
Stretched on the ultrasound screen, it looks bigger. It also looks much more real, no matter how grainy the picture quality is, or the fact that the lame black and white image doesn't let them see many details. What they see is more than enough; the distinct shape of a head, and limbs, not to mention that strong, steady sound that is resonating through the room, a loud and fast ThumpThumpThumpThump that lets them know their baby is alive and well in there.
The doctor freezes the screen, and the baby's profile is so defined he can see lips, and a nose he is already convinced will look like Olivia's. As the obstetrician takes the probe away, the room instantly becomes too quiet again, and Peter has to fight his sudden urge to ask her to turn it back on.
"Everything looks great," she says in the same confident tone she has been using ever since she joined them in the room.
Peter forces himself to turn is gaze away from the screen to look down at Olivia; she's still staring at the frozen picture, her expression seemingly as frozen, but he knows better. He easily notes all the little signs that are betraying the fact that she's undoubtedly fighting against her hormones right now.
One of his hands already holding hers, he squeezes her fingers gently; she finally raises her misty eyes, and when their gazes meet, she offers him a soft smile. She looks away again when she is handed a paper towel to wipe off the gel from her stomach.
"Are you eating well?" The doctor asks then, studying her chart. "I know you had a pretty bad case of nausea during the first trimester, but it's been gone for a few weeks, now, is that right?"
Olivia nods shortly, focused on cleaning off her skin, her lips already slightly pursed; Peter knows if there is one thing she despises about being pregnant, it is how people insist on telling her how she's supposed to eat, or behave, as if she had suddenly become incapable of taking care of herself. "I've been eating three meals a day."
"Picking at your food isn't considered eating, Olivia," the doctor says with a knowing look that matches her tone, which almost causes Peter to chuckle –he doesn't, not wanting to unleash his girlfriend, especially considering how her mood is quickly darkening.
"What are you getting at?" Olivia asks a bit crossly, throwing Peter an unamused look as if he was responsible for this.
"According to your chart, while the baby is growing well, you, on the other hand, seem to keep on losing weight, instead of gaining it. If you're eating correctly, that means something else is causing this. Is anything stressing you out, Olivia?"
Olivia cannot help but blush slightly at this, now looking uncomfortable and a bit cornered; she briefly wipes the corner of her eye with a knuckle, another small detail Peter doesn't miss. "Nope," she shakes her head, still avoiding everybody's eyes. And then, as if just remembering something, she shrugs. "Well, we are moving in three weeks, so that's been a lot of work, with all the packing and organizing."
At those words, the doctor throws Peter a grave, disapproving glare, and he raises his free hand in defense, unable not to feel the way Olivia is now clenching his fingers a bit too hard. "Hey, you don't know how stubborn she is. I do my best to keep her from doing anything too straining, but she happens to have a gun."
The physician is staring at them both now, and he doesn't know about Olivia, but he's starting to feel like he's back in grade school, being scowled by an unhappy teacher –though he somewhat doubts Olivia has ever been in that kind of situation. The closest to it would be Broyles' frequent disapproving speeches when she ignores orders or does something insane, but they never seem to faze her in the least.
Finally, the doctor drops her eyes back to her chart and scribbles something. "I'll add some complementary vitamins. Try and eat bigger portions, more regularly," she says, to which Olivia huffs discreetly and definitely a bit defiantly, now, her eyes already back on the screen, while her free hand comes to rest on her stomach. "Do you want to know the sex? I was able to see it pretty clearly."
Olivia doesn't even look back at her doctor when she says: "I already know the sex."
Obviously, this is turning into some kind of silent competition for female dominance, and all Peter can do is remain as quiet and still as can be, his eyes moving from one woman to the other.
"Alright," the doctor says, good-spirited –and obviously used to dealing with touchy pregnant women, "what is your guess?"
Olivia is smirking a little now; her gaze is fixed to the frozen image, while her fingers have started moving over her shirt. To her, it has never been a guess, but Peter knows she's not going to argue this with the other woman, knowing she wouldn't understand the unique quality of their bond even if she tried to explain it.
"It's a girl," Olivia says softly, her mind and thoughts already a thousand miles away from the room. Or maybe they are a thousand miles within, entangled with their daughter's.
And Peter thinks she was always meant to wear motherhood like a crown.
Olivia is not in bed anymore.
Her absence is the first thing Peter notices when he wakes up from a rare, dreamless sleep. The room is extremely dark, too dark; clearly, it is still the middle of the night, but he knows he is alone in the room long before he attempts to find her with blurry eyes.
He extends his hand, running his palm over the spot of the bed she usually occupies, and finds the linen cold under his touch.
Just like that, his heart-rate picks up speed. There is absolutely no valid reason for him to worry, but he doesn't need reasons anymore, his gut-wrenching fear usually triggering itself on its own nowadays. There are many logical explanations for her absence. She may be sleeping because of her pregnancy, insomnia hasn't completely disappeared from her life either; she's undoubtedly in the living room, sitting on the couch with her laptop, going through some old case.
But this thought doesn't reassure him.
It's too dark.
He leaves the bed, and quickly exits the bedroom. As he advances slowly towards the living room, darkness only seems to grow thicker. In front of him stands a sea of boxes, piling up to the ceiling. He knows these are the boxes containing everything they'll be moving to their house in a few days, but right now, they look like looming towers, occupying every inch of space in the room, leaving him only a tight path to move forward. And only one thought pulses through his head, one of dread and certainty.
He needs to get to the kitchen.
He hears the whisper, as it echoes all around him, and then it's travelling up his spine, seeping through his flesh, spreading in his blood, and his dread worsens. His breathing is already loud and getting more frantic by the second, because he knows what he will find there, but he needs to keep moving anyway, he needs to get to her.
I'm coming, Olivia, he thinks, making his way through the endless rows of boxes, and they are closing in on him, now, but he doesn't care. He will break through each one of them if it means finding her.
They never completely block his way, but they make it incredibly hard for him to advance, the air getting rarer around him, as if the darkness was taking corporal form; as he walks, he also realizes that the air has become heavy with a smell, metallic and earthy. It is a coppery scent he has encountered once too many times in his life, one he certainly never wanted to smell in his home.
It guides his steps, as he advances in what has become a familiar kind of morbid terror; the room seems to be stretching around him interminably, all the while slowly smothering him, and the whispers keep on echoing restlessly.
When the kitchen table finally comes into view, he cannot say he wasn't expecting the sight of it, or rather the sight of the body lying upon it. She is the only thing perfectly visible, her milky white skin shining too brightly through the unfathomable darkness.
There already is a small, bloody line tracing its way down her forehead, the crimson liquid just as impious upon her pale skin. Her head is turned towards him, and her eyes aren't closed, not completely. They are glassy and blind, the way they had been a few years ago, when she had been lying broken on the pavement. One of her hands hangs limply over the edge of the table.
He becomes aware of another sound, then. It is less ethereal than her whispers, almost too loud in comparison, obnoxious in its realness.
It is a soft and slow…plic…
He keeps on walking closer despite his horror, despite the pain and desperation now ripping his insides apart, and too soon, he finds the source of the sound. The hole in the middle of her head isn't the only place oozing blood.
A much larger amount of it has pooled on the table, between her legs, so much of it that it is now falling over the edge and dripping on the ground, one drop at the time.
She's staring at him through those glassy, dead eyes of hers. Something falls from her hand, then, something small that hits the ground more loudly than any drop of her blood, and it starts rolling away from her, rolling towards him.
His eyes follow it as it comes closer and closer, until the bullet stops at his feet.
Something breaks inside of him when he realizes that the bullet is out of her brain, that it has been out for a long, very long time, and that she really is too normal now for her to miraculously heal again.
She is long gone.
He has reached her, now, and his hands are on her in an instant, grabbing her, holding on to her as his sorrow causes every inch of him to shake. One of his arms slides under her shoulders while the other slips beneath her knees, and he feels the thick blood on his skin, still warm, all that is left of their daughter, and her lifeless form crumbles with him as he falls to the ground.
He rocks her body, desperately, his broken sobs muffled against her neck. She's gone, they both are, he has failed to protect them, again, and now they're gone.
He feels hands on him, trying to force him to let her go, to let it go, but he cannot let her go.
It's too late, IT'S TOO LATE, he wants to shout at Walter, because he's obviously the one trying to pull him away. There's nothing they can do, they're gone; the hands keep on grabbing him, and he keeps on pushing back, forcefully. He refuses to let go, to let it go.
He cannot let it go.
cannot let it go
let it go…
What had been a whisper seconds ago isn't anymore, Olivia's voice reaching him with deafening clarity.
In a jolt of instinctive panic, he moves away, or rather stumbles backward, only stopping when his craze movements cause him to knock over what turns out to be a pile of box, their content scattering to the ground, the commotion freezing his every move.
The room is still dark, but this darkness is different from the one that had been permeating what must have been another vision; it's less opaque, and through the mist in his eyes, he sees Olivia's form, and there is no ghostly light surrounding her now.
He can barely make her out, as she sits a few feet away from him, but this blurry sight is enough to prove that she's alive. His panic hasn't subsided yet, his entire body still shaking forcefully, drenched in sweat, his breathing nothing but distressed gulps of air. His throat is raw from his grief, and his heart pounds furiously within his rib cage. He focuses on her, repeating again and again in his head that she's fine, that it wasn't real.
After a few moments, when she's sure he's back here with her, she approaches him cautiously, before letting him reach for her, and he grabs for her a bit too strongly. At this point, this has almost become another sickeningly familiar ritual; she knows nothing will calm him down more efficiently than her touch, her fingers soft and soothing as she moves his damp hair and wipes his face off, her nails grazing his scalp when he embraces her and she repeats in his ear what he was telling to himself. It's over, she's fine, she's okay.
Eventually, he slowly comes out of his frightened state, enough to relax his grip on her when he realizes just how firmly he's been holding on to her, immediately mindful of the fact that he's been forcing her to sit in a rather awkward position on the living room's floor. He pulls away slightly to tell her that she shouldn't. He's not sure what exactly she shouldn't do, but she just shouldn't.
But the words never come out of his mouth, his entire body freezing once more as a new surge of adrenaline floods his veins at the sight of her face.
There is a thin trail of blood on her chin, her bottom lip having split near the corner of her mouth.
When he reaches up for her face, he barely notices as the bullet falls from his loosening grip. But as the tip of his trembling fingers brush her cheek, she cannot help but flinch slightly, and only then does he notice the darkening skin of her cheekbone.
"Did I hit you?" he immediately asks, his voice so low and raw he barely recognizes it.
She shakes her head softly, but it isn't in negation, more in dismissal. "I'm fine," she repeats again, but for the first time since he's come out of his terror, he notices how her voice shakes faintly, too, as does the rest of her body against him.
He pulls away even more to get a better look at her, and she definitely looks too disheveled, as if…as if she's been in a fight.
"God, Olivia…" he chocks out, his heart back to a racing speed as it sinks in mortification, and a familiar nausea washes through him, along with a new kind of horror.
"I'm fine, Peter," she insists, grabbing his face, but he shakes her hands off. "It's my fault, I came too close, you were just…I shouldn't have, but you were…"
Having grabbed her shoulders, he pushes her away, not exactly forcefully but decidedly, feeling like he might throw up on the floor any second now. "The baby," he almost stutters, "the baby, did I, did I hurt…"
No matter how intent he is on getting her away from him, she's refusing to let go of his hands, clenching his fingers vigorously. "She's okay, you were just…you were trashing, and I was too close, it was an accident."
As a last resort, he grabs her hips and forces her off him, before stumbling up to his feet, the world spinning dangerously fast around him. He has rarely felt so ashamed of himself. "An acci…Olivia, I hit you hard enough to split your lip open."
Now sitting among the wreck on the floor, she's looking up at him, remaining eerily composed and calm. Slowly, way too slowly, she brings a hand to her mouth and wipes the blood off her chin. She then stares at it, and it looks so bright against the pale skin of her fingers.
She looks back up at him. "It's just a little blood," she says, almost indifferently.
If his head hadn't been throbbing so much, and if he hadn't felt so close to having another kind of panic attack, he would have told her that this would never be just a little blood. It could never be just a little blood, not when he had seen her lying dead with that same damn blood oozing out of her.
Peter is still rational enough to realize that maybe, just maybe, she has said these words in the hope that she would get this exact reaction out of him, once again trying to corner him into talking about what has been slowly driving him insane these past couple of months.
But he can't.
He can't stay here.
"I have to go," he says suddenly, swiftly turning around and almost racing to the bedroom, his strides unbalanced and awkward, aware that he keeps on stepping on things that were in boxes not so long ago and not caring. Olivia follows him of course, but he ignores her, too, as he starts to look for the clothes he had discarded only a few hours ago.
"Peter, what are you doing?" Her calm demeanor is starting to crack; he hears the bubbling frustration in her voice as he puts his pants on.
"I have to go," he repeats, now slipping his shirt over his head. "I can't stay here anymore."
"Go where?" She tries to stop him as he walks past her to exit the bedroom, but he manages to stay away from her grip. "It's 2am, Peter!"
She's not happy, and he doesn't need to look at her face to know she's officially fed up with his behavior. He doesn't want to look at her face, not wanting to see the look in her eyes, whatever it might be.
"I'm sorry, Olivia," he says, quite wretchedly as he escapes the apartment. "I just can't stay around you right now."
It only takes him ten miserable minutes to realize that, for the first time in weeks, he hasn't taken the bullet with him.
And he finds himself hoping that if Olivia realizes it, too, she will have the good sense to do what he hasn't been strong enough to do, and throw the damn thing away.
He spends most of the following day walking and drinking.
He enters a bar, drinks a few shots, and when he starts feelings too dizzy, he pays the tab and takes a walk, having no destination whatsoever, simply trying to forget the sight of Olivia's bruised face, or dead body.
It never works, of course, which is why he always ends up entering another bar, and ordering more whiskey, before taking another long walk. Rinse and repeat.
Olivia tries to call him every hour or so, and he stubbornly ignores his vibrating phone. Eventually, she leaves a message on his voicemail, and doesn't try calling again after that. He waits another couple of hours, when his latest walk has cleared his mind enough, before listening to the actual message.
She sounds positively pissed off.
"I understand that you're going through your own thing, but taking off in the middle of the night and not giving any sign of life for hours, refusing to answer your phone, is not okay. You're not the only one worrying, here, Peter, so if you could let me know you're still alive, I'd appreciate it."
She's right, of course. Letting her worry about him is not only hypocritical of him, it's also plainly cruel and unnecessary. His shame about what he has done –not only in the past twelve hours but in the past two months as well, makes it incredibly hard for him not to stay away, but he knows he cannot keep on hiding, cannot simply run away from this. His running days are long gone, and they both know it. He starts walking back home, but he's still too much of a coward to actually call her, ending up sending her a pitiful 'on my way now' message, to which she doesn't answer.
He had assumed she would be working –it's the middle of the afternoon, and had counted on it to maybe take a shower and try to turn himself back into a fairly decent human being before she got home, so he could tell her about what he decided during one of his –drunken- soul searching walks. But when he reaches her place, she's already there. Judging by her outfit, she hasn't gone to work at all.
She's sitting in the living room, among the wreck he's made last night, now obviously trying to clean up and put everything back in the boxes. He stops a few feet away from her, standing there awkwardly, until she raises her eyes to look at him.
She is unsurprisingly livid.
"You should have called," she says, sternly.
He chooses to ignore her remark, taking her in instead. She has gotten dressed, but not in her usual outfit, and her disheveled hair alone is an obvious sign that she has chosen to stay away from people today.
"You didn't go to work," he points out a bit more darkly than he intended, but he cannot help himself, his shame throbbing painfully, like a gushing wound. And despite his efforts, he's still somewhat intoxicated.
"I had something else to do," she replies, dropping the CDs she had been organizing into a box, but he knows. He knows she's lying, his eyes now fixed on the dark bruise on her face, and the healing cut on her lip.
She's lying. She has obviously chosen to stay home so she wouldn't have to explain to her coworkers who had punched her in the face.
She's the one squinting at him now, her lips curling into a disapproving glower. "You've been drinking."
It would be so easy, he realizes then, to start a fight with her. All he has to do is retort something stupid and hurtful; he knows all of her buttons so well. In his state, and given her obvious frustration, it would actually be more than easy; if they argued, it would give him the perfect excuse to stay away from her without having to explain himself.
But his eyes briefly skim over the books she had been piling next to her, and he recognizes the cover of one of the many pregnancy books he had bought not so long ago. His eyes then stop over her middle section. Even though her current shirt and sitting position make the bump invisible, he knows it's there, knows their daughter is there, and he remembers the grainy black and white picture from the ultrasound screen, a couple of days ago.
His eyes start to prickle against his will, and he raises his gaze to meet Olivia's; she's not happy, but underneath her obvious annoyance, he sees her own pained distress, and suddenly, fighting with her is the last thing he wants to do.
He's still in a very shitty position, and he can't help being a smart ass.
"Jealous?" he asks her with a forced grin in reply to her drinking remark. "I'm sure you wish you could do it too right about now, might make it easier to deal with me."
She's very still and tense now, as she sits silently on the ground, looking up at him with darkened eyes, her lips pursed in serious discontentment. "Is it how you're going to deal with this situation?" She asks calmly, but definitely grimly. "By getting drunk?"
He almost points out the fact that she can't really blame him for turning to alcohol; alcoholism runs in his family. It's in his genes, he cannot do anything about it.
But thinking about genetic traits instantly brings his thoughts back to their unborn daughter, and the prickling sensation in his eyes worsens, forcing him to swallow rather convulsively past the painful lump lodged in his throat. Once again, he cannot help thinking about what he did a few hours ago, and how he could have hurt her on top of hurting Olivia.
"I'm actually here to pick up some clothes," he says quietly, all witty remarks gone from his mind, his heart pounding in his chest as he feels successfully defeated by his misery. "I've come to the conclusion that I can't spend the night with you anymore, it will be safer for you and the baby if I stay at my old place for a while."
For a few seconds, she keeps on staring at him impressively calmly. Then, as if the meaning of his words were finally sinking in, both her hands briefly come up to her face, pressing her palms together, an obvious sign of agitation in her case, before she drops her hands."We're moving in a house together in less than three weeks, Peter," she reminds him, her voice low and too steady. "What are you gonna do, then? Sleep on the couch?"
He shrugs, trying to make it seem as if this wasn't a big deal, as if the idea of being forced to be away from her now wasn't physically painful to him. "If I have to," he says, and his voice actually cracks as he adds: "I can't take any more risk, I'm too dangerous."
But Olivia is not ready to accept his weepy explanation. "This is ridiculous, Peter," she almost shouts out, her cheeks now flushed, her eyes ablaze. "You can't keep on living like this."
"I punched you in the face!" He replies at once just as heatedly. "How is that ridiculous? What if next time, I punch you in the stomach?"
"It was an accident," she insists, her voice almost a low growl now. "You and I both know you'd never purposefully hurt me in any way, least of all the baby." Her face softens slightly, then, as her whole stature slumps, and she shakes her head, her eyes pleading him to listen to her. "Don't do this to yourself. Sleeping in another place instead of next to me won't make the nightmares stop, Peter. What you need is to get help."
It's his turn to shake his head stubbornly, averting his eyes. "I don't need help," he immediately retorts.
She moves then, and the motion at the corner of his eyes drags his gaze back to her as she stands up, her face back to an intent look of irritated resolve. "Don't lie to me," she tells him darkly. "You know you need help, and I'm not even talking about seeing a shrink. If you would just let me in, Peter." Her hands move as she speaks, her concern obvious, now. "I've given you space, because I thought you would eventually come out of this, but you haven't. You keep on carrying that bullet around, pretending everything's fine, all the while behaving as if you were grieving me, even though I'm right here with you."
He wishes he could stay immune to her words and persuade himself that she doesn't understand, doesn't get it, but everything she's saying is painfully true. He really wishes he hadn't drunk so much today, now, the world back to spinning dangerously fast around them as he stares at her with misty eyes; his heart is racing insanely fast, too, his stomach twitching almost convulsively, and he's back to breathing too loudly.
"I can't just come out of this," he says then in a low voice, and he realizes then that his shaky, clammy, fingers are playing with the hem of his pants' pocket, looking for something that isn't there. "And throwing the bullet away won't miraculously make this stop."
She has noticed his nervous tic, her eyes on his fingers, and he knows she's not fooled by his attempt at making it sound unimportant.
She raises her gaze back to his, then, and shaking her head slowly, she says: "I didn't throw the bullet away. It has become too significant to you for me to just throw it away."
He wishes with all his heart that he could simply shrug this off, because he shouldn't care so much about it. But the truth is, he actually feels the oddest kind of relief upon hearing that she hasn't discarded of the bullet. "Where is it, then?" he can't help but ask.
She remains immobile for a moment, simply staring at him. Finally, she brings a hand up to her neck, her fingers slipping under the collar of her shirt. Before long, she's pulling out what seems to be a necklace.
He doesn't understand what he's seeing right away, and even her words don't make any sense when she says: "I had it put on a chain, earlier today."
It hits him, then. The bullet, the damn thing, is now hanging from her neck, and has been for a few hours now, resting against her beating heart.
Breathing becomes incredibly difficult again, his throat closing up as shivers break through his body, and he shakes his head vigorously, a familiar panic taking hold of him.
"Take it off," he tells her, his voice raw with dread and shock, his eyes glued to the dangling bullet, so damn close to her chest, to their baby. Doesn't she get it? Doesn't she understand? She can't keep it around her neck.
"No." She answers very calmly, letting go of the chain, letting the bullet fall back against her shirt, and his vision has shrunk again, his heart pulsing against his ears.
"Olivia, take this thing off you," he repeats, fighting the sudden urge to leap at her and pulls the necklace off her himself.
"Why?" She asks, still refusing to make a move to get the thing away from her, and worse, she is now holding it, rolling it between her fingers the way he himself has done so many times.
He keeps on shaking his head, almost madly. "Please, Liv, you can't-" but he's incapable of finishing that sentence without letting everything spill out, because he's the one who can't, he just can't.
"Why Peter?" She insists, her voice almost angry, now, her fingers rolling and rolling and rolling and god she has to let it go. "Why can't I keep the bullet around my neck?"
"Because it killed you!"
The words come out of him in a desperate shout, spilling out of his mouth like a gunshot.
And in the floating instant that follows his distraught admission, he feels like he might just collapse right there on the floor, his body matching the distress of his soul. He stares right back at her, feeling the pain oozing out of him, seeping out of his pores, unable to stop himself now.
"It killed you, Olivia," he repeats in a broken voice, crushed under the weight of this sorrow he simply cannot get rid of. "You just…I heard the gunshot, but it was too late, you…I saw you…fall to the ground, and you were just…you were gone."
He's not the only one having difficulty breathing now. She's staring at him, her chest heaving, her face having constricted in a mix of aching emotions, her nostrils flaring, obviously trying to keep as much composure as she can.
"Guess what, Peter," she says with a voice that is as raw and quivering as his. And then she drops her bombshell, shrugging a shoulder in fake indifference with a painful smile: "I'm the one who died."
As she takes a step closer to him, her smile disappears, her eyes dark and intense, her brow still deeply furrowed as she shakes her head and says severely: "I was shot, in the head, and I didn't even know I was carrying our child."
Her hand as let go of the bullet to come and rest over her small bump, her fingers now clenching her shirt as pain takes over her sternness, her eyes welling up with tears. "You think it doesn't scare me?" She asks, almost in a whisper. "You think I'm not terrified when I think about how, if something like this happened to me, it can happen again?"
"Olivia…" he chokes out her name miserably, unable to do anything else, her words cutting through him like blades, ignoring the wetness he feels on his face, far beyond caring about his broken pride.
She's standing very close to him now, and he can almost feel the raw energy and emotions coming out of her, and he knows she won't stop until she's said everything she has wanted to tell him for weeks.
"Why do you think I've been losing weight?" She continues. "I'm worrying sick about you, and it's not because I'm scared of what you can do when you're asleep. I'm scared for you, for her. I need you to snap out of this, Peter," she tells him very firmly. "I need you to snap out of this, because if something else happens to me in the future, if another Bell decides to make a power source out of me, or if I'm really doomed to be a martyr, I need to know my child will be protected by her father, not by a ghost of what he used to be."
She grabs his hand and brings it to her chest, pushing it vigorously against the bullet, until it's digging in both his palm and her chest through the fabric of her shirt. "You have every right and reason to be scared," she tells him more softly as his forehead comes to rest on hers and she raises her other hand to his face, resting it on his wet cheek, and she begs him with her eyes to listen to her. "I get it, Peter. Trust me, I get it. But don't you let this piece of lead scare you. It was supposed to kill me, and our baby, but it didn't. If it has to have such an impact on you, then don't let it scare you. Let it humble you."
She moves her hand from his face to the back of his head, gripping his nape tightly, almost painfully, giving more power to her every word, fierce tears now slipping out of her blazing eyes. "I'm going to keep it around my neck, Peter. I'm going to keep it, because it doesn't scare me. I survived it, and so did our daughter. And when she's old enough to understand about life, and death, and sacrifice, we will give it to her. And she will wear it proudly. You hear me? She will wear it proudly."
He cannot answer with words, having lost the ability to speak, the only sounds coming out of him now being his ragged breathing mixed with hardly contained sobs. But he nods against her, nods vehemently, letting her know that she did get through after all, feeling an overwhelming mix of relief, pain and hope. One of his hands remains against her chest, having closed into a fist around the bullet; his other arm comes around her to wrap her in tight hug, and once again, she responds in kind, accepting his desperate embrace and giving everything back as he lets all of his walls crumble.
"I'm sorry I couldn't protect you," he finally says against her neck, or rather chokes out, pulling out one of the thorns that had taken roots deeply in his heart by doing so, his shame about failing her greater than anything else.
She pulls away from him, just enough so that she can bring her hands to his face, gently wiping his cheeks as she shakes her head almost imperceptibly, offering him a soft smile. "You are so stubborn," she tells him. "I don't expect you to always be able to protect me, especially since you and I both know I'm going to tell you I don't need to be protected anyway."
But he doesn't smile, because they also both know it is a lie.
She pulls his face down to hers again, pressing her nose against his as she whispers against his lips: "We're okay, Peter. We're okay."
He doesn't know if she means him and her, or her and the baby.
Knowing Olivia, she probably means the three of them.
"We're okay," she repeats, her thumb tracing slow circles over the back of his neck. "So please. Let it go."
Another long moment passes, but he eventually unclenches his fingers and releases the bullet, letting it fall against her beating heart, and against his as well as he wraps her more fully in his arms, pressing their chests together, and feeling the slightest pressure from her growing bump against him. And he thinks about her, then, about their little girl, thinks about what Olivia has said.
Even though she's only a few inches long right now, barely bigger than an avocado, he can already see her in his mind's eye, as selfless and brave as her mother, and undoubtedly twice as beautiful and kind. He pictures her vividly, wearing the bullet around her neck, keeping it as a token of inexorable sacrifice, of extraordinary survival.
Because there is not a trace of doubt in his heart that she will be extraordinary. After all, she has been so from the very, very start.
Olivia is right. She should wear it proudly.
We really are
And so, at long last, Peter lets it go.
A/N: That's all I've got for you. For now.
As always, reviews are greatly appreciated :)