Etta insists that Olivia take her bed, the first night. "You've been lying there as that creepo guy's coffee table for how long? You deserve a decent mattress," she says. Peter considers a defense of Markham, of the pre-creepo Markham he'd known, but then Etta's eyes flick uncertainly between her parents; she blushes, and Peter bites his tongue. Etta shuffles down the hall to bunk with Astrid in the den, and the Bishops paterfamilias curl back into their nests on opposite sofas.
Walter's snores and lip-smackings are an odd comfort, though Peter doesn't sleep. It's well past midnight when he sees Olivia ghost from her room to peer through the cracked door to where their daughter lies. She stands motionless as Lot's wife for long minutes, watching Etta while Peter's watching her. At last she turns and tiptoes back past him, into the darkened kitchen.
"She still breathing?" Peter murmurs, and Olivia whirls, her eyes and hair catching faint light from the street. She relaxes, or tries to, seeing him, though her fists clench at the edge of the counter.
"Yeah," she whispers. There's a faint glimmer of teeth, a half-smile.
"I kept waking her up. All I could do not to hold a mirror under her nostrils," Peter whispers. He means now, the last few days in the apartment…but he means then, too: Etta, hours old, the ecstatic terror of responsibility for this miraculous tiny human asleep in his arms. The peach-fuzz heat of her scalp in the palm of his hand.
"Can't sleep?" he asks, sitting up to rest his folded arms across the back of the couch. Olivia shakes her head. "There's tea in the left-hand cabinet. Or stronger stuff on the right." His eyes have adjusted, enough that he can see her wry smirk before she takes down the flat, clear bottle and squints at the peeling label.
"What is this stuff?"
"On the spectrum of fine distilled spirits, it falls somewhere between 'lighter fluid' and 'Novocain.' The latter's actually an endorsement." Olivia considers, then uncaps the bottle with a shrug and throws back a swallow. Peter smothers a grin in the sofa cushion when her face contorts and she stamps one bare heel against the linoleum, twice. "Jesus Christ," she rasps.
"Don't worry, the blindness is only temporary." Peter gets up to stand next to her at the sink. She seems smaller than he remembered, all around: battle-lean and taut and tired, next to him. He takes the bottle from her hand and turns it in idle circles on the countertop.
"Can't you sleep either?" Olivia gestures at the bottle, and Peter shakes his head.
"I already had mine. Doesn't work," he says gently. "At least she didn't inherit the insomnia gene." At that Olivia turns and hangs her head over the sink, face in her hands.
"Peter. What you said, today—about leaving me alone? It's not true, Peter. I never thought that," Olivia says, muffled in the hollow of her cupped hands.
Peter doesn't know how to answer her. "Hey," he whispers, and raises a hand to rub a slow circle on her back—or, really, on the back of her tank top, hovering too lightly to touch her. Olivia drops her hands but goes on, whispering confidences into the dark mouth of the drain trap.
"I didn't. I wasn't strong enough, Peter—I wasn't strong enough to let myself feel the loss. I couldn't bear to even feel it, or to hope that she was alive, or to see you grieving…and the only thing I knew how to do was to fight. I left you, and I ran. I'm sorry, Peter. I'm so sorry." Olivia scrubs at her face; a tear hits the stainless steel of the basin with an audible plink in the silent kitchen.
"I don't think that," Peter breathes. "I'm sorry too. I never…I'm sorry too." His hand grazes between her shoulder blades and Olivia turns to face him.
"But what does she think?" she whispers. "Peter, what if…Etta believes I abandoned her, and you? That I gave up on her, on searching? To save the world, I had to leave her for dead-" Olivia's eyes glitter, wet in the window light. She's vibrating with grief under his touch, until Peter seizes both her shoulders.
"No," he says. "No, no, no, no. She doesn't think that, and I don't think that. Ever," he insists. He keeps a firm grip on her, ducking to capture her gaze with his own. "Okay? Oh, Olivia," he whispers, and at last some of the tension sifts from her body as she relents. When he lets her go, she leans wearily against the counter but doesn't turn away. Peter takes a moment to find his voice.
"I think it's the opposite, in fact," he offers. "Maybe…maybe she's the purpose in all this, the lesson we had to learn. She's spent her entire adult life doing two things: searching for us, and fighting to save the world. And she found us. All of us, you and me, Walter and Astrid…so we could help her with the bigger task." He brushes a strand of Olivia's hair from her face. "Maybe Etta is the whole point, Olivia. She's the proof of what we made together…and what we couldn't do, apart."
Olivia searches his face for a long moment, fingers pressed to her lips…and then Walter emits a huge cartoon snort and abruptly rolls over on the far couch. They both jump with startled, suppressed giggles, and then Olivia steps forward and puts her arms around Peter's waist, nestling her head beneath his chin. Peter doesn't hesitate; he hugs her back with exhausted relief, clings to her so tightly that he imagines passing through her body and out the other side.
It doesn't last. Olivia squirms, her cheek against his shirtfront, and leans away. "What the—" she mutters, and plucks at the cord around Peter's neck, pulls his wedding ring out from under his collar where it had been scraping against her face. It swings at the end of the cord, glinting between them. "Oh," Olivia whispers. After a moment she closes the ring in her fist.
Peter shuts his eyes. And so he is surprised when Olivia tugs at the cord to pull his head down, briefly shocked when she seals her mouth to his. Astonishment floods his bloodstream, followed by an instant wave of adrenaline, love and desperate, clawing desire. They grope each other frantically in the kitchen; when they stagger against the refrigerator, Olivia breaks the kiss, but her expression is almost unbearably tender, her face alight and awash with tears. Once more, it's Olivia, his brave, beautiful Olivia, who laces her fingers through Peter's and steps back without a word, who leads him from the kitchen and to the bed.
"Mom?" Etta taps her fingernails on the bedroom door before pushing it open. "There's tea if you—"
Her father bolts upright in the bed first, shirtless and tensed to fight even with his eyelids still sleep-logy. Her mother's a split second behind him, but equally coiled to spring. Also equally nude. They all gape at each other for what Etta later will estimate to be two seconds that feel like 45 minutes.
"Oh! Sorry! I was—I just—sorrysorry," Etta gasps, nearly slamming the door on her own hand in her haste to back out of the room. In the hallway she stands blinking furiously in an effort to dispel…whatever that probably, definitely was. On the other side of the door is dead, pained silence.
Astrid emerges from the bathroom, her hair mashed sleep-flat on one side. "You okay?" she asks. Then she gets a better look at Etta's expression and a slow, sidelong grin surfaces on her face, a wicked gleam in her eye. "Oh, thank God," she whispers to the ceiling, and then pats Etta's shoulder as she shuffles past. "Sweetie, if it's any consolation? Of course you don't remember, but this isn't even the first time you've done that."
"I…what?" Etta follows Astrid into the kitchen. Walter is rummaging through the lower cabinets; the resultant racket sounds a bit like a garbage truck, full of cymbals, being driven over a cliff. He emerges triumphant, brandishing a muffin tin and a…hammer?
"When you started walking, they had to put a lock on the door," Astrid explains. Etta sinks onto a stool in vague horror. Walter looks between them.
"What? Oho! I take it things are being patched up!" He makes a jubilant little gesture with the bakeware, before settling into a frown. "You know, they shouted at me, whenever I walked in on them," he grumbles.