For the umpteenth time since last night, Olivia finds her hand absently drifting to her middle, feeling the unfamiliar spongy flatness that has replaced the earlier taut swell of her belly, and she feels a conflicted sense of bittersweet emotion.
Her baby no longer thrives inside of her, being nurtured and sheltered in her protective womb, connected to her in in an incomparable bond, where she's all hers. A little bit Peter's too, but mostly just hers.
She now has an existence outside of her. She's six pounds and eight ounces of flesh and blood and life and her father's eyes and simply perfect.
And in equal parts, Olivia is overjoyed and terrified. Overjoyed that can she can finally hold and feel the tangible proof of the love that she shares with Peter, and terrified that she can't protect her from this all too cruel universe.
She lets her self day-dream, slipping for a few precious moments into an idyllic future of picturesque domesticity , of ballet and riding lessons, and family picnics that they would have on the weekends, of taking her to the park and teaching her to pump her legs on the swing set, and helping her with homework, ( not that she would really need it given her prodigious Bishop lineage ), of Christmas mornings where she'd sit back with Peter on the couch, nursing a cup of cocoa and watch their daughter's eyes light up as she unwrapped her presents.
"I hope she grows up to be just like you," she hears Peter whisper breaking through her thoughts; his gaze drifting towards the clear glass of the crib their daughter lay in. He's lying in the cramped hospital bed with her, and looks about as exhausted as she feels and yet she's never quite seen him look so at peace, not a trace of the underlying shiftiness that has always lurked beneath his eyes.
"You mean become consumed with a job that could drive her clinically insane and then take up with a conman who was effectively erased from this timeline and have his love child? Yeah, sounds like every parent's dream." Olivia says her voice tinged with a hint of amusement, as her gaze follows his to the sleeping infant by their bedside, her lips curving into a smile that she can't quite help.
Peter laughs at that, a quiet chuckle, " Former conman," he corrects her, " I've had to update my LinkedIn profile to state my current occupation as saving the world, after the last four years or so."
It's intended to be a joke but Peter sees a shadow of anxiety set into her eyes at those words, like as if a dark cloud has descended upon the halo of happiness that had surrounded her not a second ago. Even as she smiles, it doesn't reach her eyes.
She stays quiet for a couple of moments, as if in contemplation before she speaks again, "You know despite everything, I don't think that what we have is anything short of perfect, you know that right." Her voice trembles ever so slightly as she absently brings up her hand to her chest, fisting the soft grey material of his Henley.
"Yeah, I know," he brushes an errant strand of hair to look into her face, seeing the unmistakable signs of fear and when she looks up to his meet his gaze, he sees in them a dread that he's seen before only in the most extenuating of circumstances.
"But I don't want any of this for her, Peter," she almost whispers, partly because talking in hushed tones has become their default setting since last night and partly because she can't help it. She nods her head furiously, as if anxious that he would read her words wrong in some way.
"I don't want this life for her. I don't want her to be in so much danger on a regular basis. I don't want her to be in so much physical and emotional pain like it were a normal thing…"
And now she's closed her eyes and it's like she's talking to herself, "and I don't want her to find the love of her life and then have it simply vanish from the face of the earth and be left with a hole in her heart. I can't bear the thought of her having to go through something like that."
Peter winces at that admission, even while knowing she doesn't mean to hurt him. Because he knows exactly the tally of hurt and pain he has caused her, time after time- when he left her without so much as a goodbye for another universe, or betrayed her with another version of herself, or had simply ceased to exist, or had callously rejected her when she was begging him to look into her eyes and recognize the truth of her.
He is acutely aware of the monumental price she has paid for being in love with him and part of him is still in awe of her, for having held on to that love despite it all, for having willed him back into existence and then letting herself be overwritten by memories of a different past.
A lesser human being would have long succumbed to so much agony by now.
But Olivia is extraordinary in so many ways and Peter realizes he needs to never forget that. Even when they can have this moment of utterly and absurd normalcy and just be new parents thinking aloud about their child's future, he cannot forget everything that it has taken them to get here, to get to this point when he can stare in his daughter's beautiful blue eyes and know without a doubt that it was all worth it.
So he pulls her close to reassure her, even though he shares every one of her anxieties and if he could be true to his cynical nature, almost knows with miserable certainty that the chances of their daughter being untainted by the cluster fuck of craziness that pervades their lives are laughably remote.
"We'll make sure that she never has to go through something like that then," he says forcing an optimism that he's not sure he feels, one that he knows she might just see through. So he opts for lighter way out,
"Plus you know honey, we did close the bridge to the other side, so the chances of Etta finding the love of her life in a parallel universe and being entangled in an inter-dimensional version of Romeo and Juliet are slim wouldn't you say?"
That earns him a small laugh and he sees just a little bit of the fear disappear from her green irises, so he presses on with a teasing grin. "And you know, no offense Liv, but frankly, I hope she has better sense than to fall for a smart mouthed jackass with a criminal past."
Olivia knows this game well; it's what they do when things get so painfully real that it hurts to do anything but banter. She brings up the hand that isn't clinging to his shirt up to his chin, running her fingers through the stubble that looks even more unruly than usual, not having been tended to in the past couple of days.
"Well you know what they say about girls dating their dads," she says playfully, almost wanting to laugh at the look of deep worry that sets into his face at that. The one that said, like forget about the end of the world, my daughter could actually end up liking a rake.
"Is it too soon to discuss dating rules?" he asks, his face so serious that she can't help but burst out laughing into his chest, feeling an unexpected flood of relief wash over her at his grave question
Maybe they could never really have normal, but at least they could have moments like this.
"Yeah… let's worry about diapers and midnight feedings for now shall we," she absently pats his chest, closing her eyes as she begins to feel the tug of exhaustion pulling at her. And she can't help thinking as the tiredness overwhelms her quickly how much she actually wants Etta to be like him – have his dry sense of humor or his ability to not carry burdens forever, for her to inherit his brilliant mind and his irresistible charm, for her to have the diverse experiences that he has had and travel the world and meet exciting people.
"I hope she grows up to be just like you," she murmurs before sleep overcomes her.