Ella's Birthday Party
Olivia blinked several times in confusion, trying to adjust her eyes to the strong light that radiated from her apartment. It was really strange, seeing how Rachel, Ella and her normally loved to lie on the sofa or on the couch in front of the TV, with nothing but a night lamp on, or sometimes not even that, cuddling, giggling and tickling each other while they were watching movies or playing silly old games that she herself and Rachel enjoyed when they were little...
Well this is certainly a surprise. She barely had the time for that thought to cross her mind, when her little niece ran up to her, sneaking behind Peter's back and screamed in delight.
-Aunt Liv! Aunt Liv!
Ella jumped into her arms and squealed after having noticed the marvelously wrapped present, which Olivia was trying to hide unsuccessfully.
-Is that for me?-little girl was positively beaming now, reaching out for the gift.
-Yes, sweetie, of course it's for you-Olivia smiled as well but she placed the book behind her back and out of Ella's reach, toying with her.
-Can I open it now? I wanna see, I wanna see!
-Come here, you little impatient rascal-Peter stretched his arms and took her from Olivia, placing her on his shoulders. It was, apparently, Ella's favorite place to be, since she was joyously jumping, grabbing his hair and his ears. –Let aunt Liv catch a breath.
They stood together in a doorway for a while and Olivia couldn't help but slowly take in the clothes he was wearing again and the smell of his perfume. Peter noticed her eying him, and he looked pleased; seconds later, his gaze bore into hers for what seemed like an eternity and it was a mixture of longing and interrogation. Peter was clearly looking for something in her features, because he was staring at her so intensely that she had to shoot a downcast glance towards the wooden parquet. Eventually, the steel grip of his ice blue pupils subsided and she felt relieved.
-Um… What is going on in here, Peter?
-Well… You know how this morning you were so focused on the case…
She nodded impatiently.
-And… You had your agenda wide open in front of you. So I knelt beside you and I took a sneak peak…
-You saw I wrote it was Ella's birthday today-she concluded, half-angry, half-amused.
-Aunt Liv…-Ella addressed her from Peter's shoulders… -Why did you have to write down my birthday? I thought you knew it by heart…
-No, honey, it's not like that…-she shot a venomous glance at Peter who shrugged apologetically. You'll pay for this, Bishop. –It's just that I sometimes have so many things to do at the same time…
-I know you have an important job-Ella said comprehensively, sounding surprisingly more mature than she really was.
-That's right, Ella-Peter jumped in. -So your aunt Liv has this big white notebook she always carries around and in it, she writes down everything that's very important to her. And one of the most significant things for her today was your birthday, so she wanted to specially mark it. Mind you, when I looked over her shoulder, I saw that it was written in beautiful, stylized, huge pink letters and she even drew many little hearts around this big news.
-Really really-Peter replied calmly. –Your aunt loves you more than anything in the world.
He winked at Olivia, proud of having handled the situation so well, but she wasn't about to forgive him that easily… Also, she wanted to hear the story behind the party she knew nothing about in the first place.
Peter leisurely lowered Ella from his shoulders and told her, gently caressing her hair:
-Go and play for a while more with Mr. Baldilocks, sweetheart. We'll join you very soon and make this the best birthday party ever.
Olivia somewhat shivered with discomfort, hearing the nickname she hated coming out of his mouth; however, when it was meant for Ella, it sounded so kind and endearing that she really couldn't object. What really caught her attention was the name Mr. Baldilocks.
-Peter… Who is Mr. Baldilocks? Is that a teddy bear you gave her or something?
-Oh.-he suddenly shifted guiltily. That's just the name Ella and I gave to your grandfather.
-To my… Peter?-her tone was suddenly wary. –Peter, don't tell me you've brought the boy here.
-Why? What's wrong with that, Olivia? He's been stuck in that hospital room for days. I thought a nice change would be welcoming. Some company, nice food…
-Peter! We're not supposed to take him out of there. How did you…
-Don't worry, I didn't kidnap him, I asked a nurse for permission… She said it was OK if I got him back by ten p.m. It's not even nine o' clock yet. I'll take him back myself-his tone was defensive and slightly angry, but Olivia didn't care. She dragged him back to the hallway.
-And who gave you the permission to organize a party in MY apartment? Peter, you've just crossed the line. What the hell?-she raised her voice. Peter looked astonished.
-I am a private person. I keep myself to myself, you should know that. And here I was, hoping to get some rest from the difficult case I've just completed, to spend some time with my family, and you hijack my apartment and convert it into some sort of party polygon! I mean, you could've told me!-Olivia was getting more and more nervous each passing second but that was just the effect Peter always had on her and she hated herself for that.
The wrinkle between his eyes grew even deeper as his pupils darkened. He spoke quietly, and levelly, and for some reason that made her stop dead in her tracks.
-Look, Olivia. I didn't tell you anything, because I wanted to surprise you.
-To surprise me? But…
-Yes. Seeing how your life is… You fight monsters every day, and then you get back home and there is nothing for you to go back to. Ella and Rach are here now, but they are just visiting and they might be gone soon. You need to be with people, Olivia. You need to relax, to have fun. I swear, when I look at you sometimes, you seem so tense that I have a feeling you're about to burst and explode in front of my eyes-he reached for her shoulder without breaking their eye contact.
-That… Is none of your business-she whispered spitefully, raising her defenses, alarmed.
Peter closed his eyes for a second and removed his hand. He didn't want to show her how much she wounded him. He replied coldly:
-OK. You're right. It's not. I just had the idea after seeing it was Ella's birthday today. I called Rachel and asked her what she thought about the party. She gladly accepted.
-I am sure she did-this flew out of Olivia's mouth before she could stop herself from saying it.
-And that was fine, Olivia! You know what: I'm not about to apologize for wanting to make you feel better! It's nice to be surrounded by beings that care about you; it's nice to unwind, to loosen up. No man is an island. I came to terms with that and I think it's about time you did too. You accused me once of being selfish. Now I tell you the same. You are being selfish now. You haven't even entered the room. You don't know who is at the party. You have no idea how pleased Ella and Rachel are. It's just one hour, for God's sake. Can you at least pretend to be glad and smile for one hour? Don't ruin this for your niece.
-Fine-that steel expression appeared on her face and she walked into the living room. –One hour and that's it. And don't you ever… Listen to me, Peter, damn it… Don't you ever do something like this again.
Peter felt broken. The things he just said to her… She deserved every one of them. He clenched his fists and leaned his burning forehead on the wall in her hallway, cursing out loud. He wasn't about to join the party yet. He slipped behind Olivia's back and into the kitchen. He found her secret whisky stash in the bottom drawer and took a good swig. His heart was racing.
Olivia entered the brightly lit room and what she saw there made her jaw drop in awe. She couldn't recognize her own living room. The walls were richly decorated in children's drawings and animal pictures. Numerous multicolored balloons were hanging from the ceiling, and they all said things like: "Happy birthday, Ella!", "Ella rocks", "Have the best day, sweetheart". Olivia swallowed recognizing Peter's handwriting. There was an old gramophone in the room, and Walter was standing right next to it, his hair neatly combed, and dressed more elegantly than she'd ever seen him before, fumbling through the old records, obviously trying to figure out what to play for them. He's like a '70s DJ-Olivia thought and her eyes smiled. Astrid was there too, and she beamed at Olivia when she saw her enter. They hugged amicably.
-How was it?-Astrid asked simply, patting her supportively and Olivia instantly felt better.
-It was… No matter. The important thing is we caught him.
She was wearing tight black jeans and a nice beige shirt. She also had a different haircut. Both of them had birthday caps on their heads. Walter nodded to her happily.
-Agent Dunham, what a lovely surprise. It's so nice to see you. I wanted to bring Gene, too, you know… There's nothing better for the milkshakes as fresh milk. But Peter told me you would probably object it so I obeyed.
Rachel, with a radiant smile and wearing a beautiful red dress, was standing next to the table where Ella and the boy sat together. Olivia gasped, worried, and ran to his side, but he appeared to be fine.
-Look, aunt Liv-Ella smiled. –Mr. Baldilocks drew all those animals on the wall for me. He is very nice. We are the bestest of friends. He doesn't talk much but uncle Peter told me all boys are like that so it's OK. He draws whatever I want and I tell him nice stories about the books you've read to me and about the cartoons we saw…-Ella chattered happily on and on but Olivia wasn't convinced. However, when the calm boy raised his head and took her hand, smiling, she calmed down as well.
-Are you OK?-her eyes were filled with worry.
He merely nodded, amused, and caressed her cheek with his soft fingers. Then he resumed his drawing.
-I told him I wanted a hippopotamus but he didn't know what it was, and then uncle Peter showed the picture to him on the Internet and then he could start drawing it and now I think it's almost finished.
-Ella, honey, breathe-Olivia told her niece gently, with a wide smile on her face.
Then Olivia took a good look of the table which was overladen with food.
-Oh my God. What is all this?
Rachel started babbling. That's where Ella gets it-Olivia thought, amused.
-Olive, you're not gonna believe this. It was all Peter's idea, actually. Firstly we decorated everything real nicely, than his father brought the gramophone with music, he said he wanted to keep it old fashioned... Peter brought this sweet boy too and went to bring some drinks the supermarket… His father… Mr. Walter, right?- Rachel secretly made a circular motion with her index finger and winked at Olivia, signalizing she recognized there was something wrong with Walter Bishop. -He baked another cake for Ella in the shape of Dr. Frankenstein's head and she absolutely loved it! And they all bought her presents. She hasn't opened them yet, we were waiting for you!
Olivia looked at all the smiling faces in the room and felt guilty. Ella jumped from the chair and gave her a big hug.
-Aunt Liv, this is my bestest birthday yet! I am so happy!
-I am glad you like it, Ella-she grinned at her niece, but her eyes remained sad. She overreacted with Peter… She knew it now. The problem was… If Peter was bad at apologizing and he needed a couple of drinks before his tongue would loosen… She was even worse. It was so hard for Olivia Dunham to admit that she was wrong and she didn't know how to face him. Everyone looked so happy. She felt out of place, as if she didn't belong there, even though it was her own house. I'm just spoiling this for them all. I am too stiff. Too… Strange.
-Where is uncle Peter?-little girl pouted.
-Yes, where is my son?-Walter asked. –It seems as if he'd vanished into thin air.
Peter chose that very moment to emerge from the kitchen.
-I am right here Walter-his voice was cold and reserved, his eyes were clouded, but guarded; he looked everywhere but in Olivia's direction and she felt so ashamed.
-Uncle Peter!-Ella immediately ran to him. –You smell funny.
-That's because I had a drink for grownups, Ella. And… You're right, it doesn't smell nice at all.
-Aunt Liv sometimes has that same drink for grownups, uncle Peter. I know that because then she smells funny too.
-Does she now?-his eyes pierced her and left her rooted to the spot, but then he quickly averted his gaze.
-So, little princess…-he said tenderly to Ella. –Are you going to open all of these nice presents?
-No-she replied sulkily.
-Why not, honey?-Olivia knelt next to her and Peter's eyes followed her, unwillingly. He was so angry with Olivia at that moment but he couldn't help looking at that beautiful heart-shaped, gentle face, especially when she was talking so sweetly to her niece.
-Because you are not invited yet, aunt Liv.
-I'm not?-she said playfully and Peter's heart did a somersault. He loved that tone of voice she used so rarely.
-Don't you love me anymore?-Olivia made a sad face.
-I do love you…
-But only people who are dressed very nicely can come to my party tonight.
Everyone in the room laughed. Even the boy lifted his head from the drawing and grinned.
-You don't like what I'm wearing, is that it?
-Yes…-Ella rocked backwards and forwards uncomfortably. –It's like men's clothes and black and big… And I don't like your hair when it's like that, aunt Liv. I like it when it's down and when I can comb it just like you comb mine.
I have to get this kid something just for saying all of my thoughts out loud-Peter thought and he almost choked laughing, trying to hide it and pass it as a cough instead.
-Please wear something nice for me aunt Liv… Just tonight.
-OK, Ella, sweetie, what would you like me to wear?
-I like the green dress you have in your closet aunt Liv! The one you had on the photo with your boyfriend!
Olivia cringed. She didn't put that dress on since John died. She wasn't sure she was ready to put it on tonight. Actually, she was even considering giving it away, selling it, or simply throwing it into the garbage. It reminded her of John too much.
She swallowed but she nodded, slowly.
-Very well, Ella. I shall wear it for you.
-Yay! Mommy can help you put it on! And then I will open my presents!
Rachel followed Olivia into her bedroom. Her face suddenly changed and Olivia saw two tears glistening in Rachel's eyes.
-What's wrong, Rach?-she asked worriedly, hugging her sister.
-That bastard… Greg… He hadn't even called. He didn't even remember his daughter's birthday.
-Oh God. I'm so sorry, Rach. Don't worry. Everything is going to be okay. You two don't need him in your lives… He was never a good husband, or a good father, for all that matters. I am glad you got rid of him-Olivia said in earnest.
-You're right. I'll stop talking about him… This night is all about my little angel. Now…-Rachel giggled… Let's find that green dress, shall we?
When Olivia put the dress on, Rachel whistled.
-Olive, you look like a top model. Why don't you wear stuff like that more often? I swear I am going to buy you a bunch of elegant dresses and skirts for your birthday! And I don't wanna hear another word about it-she exclaimed on time when she saw Olivia opening her mouth in protest.
Olivia looked at herself in the mirror and she blushed slightly. Rachel was right… She did look great in a dress. It matched the color of her eyes and it traced the line of her body, gently enveloping her breasts, her waist and her thighs. However, she wasn't used to this and she fidgeted.
Ella burst into the room and playfully removed her hair band. Olivia's long silken hair spilled over her shoulders and her niece combed it gently.
-One hundred times!-Ella chimed. –Your hair is so nice, aunt Liv and your dress is all pretty and you smell like vanilla now! I have the most beautiful aunt in the world and the best Mommy! Let's go open my presents!
For some reason, Olivia thought of Peter's reaction to her looks but she immediately scolded herself… Why would she care if he thought she looked nice or not? As they were entering the living room, Olivia saw him. His back was turned to them, and he was talking to Walter and Astrid. His contagious laughter reached her and she grinned against her will.
-No, Walter, you can't show Ella how well you perform "Never gonna give you up"-he told his father barely suppressing the need to start rolling on the floor. His stomach hurt and he was laughing his head off.
Astrid was hugging confused Walter; she was chuckling as well.
-Why not, son?
-Because, Walter, you can only do that dance if you're wearing nothing but your socks and somehow I don't think that would be appropriate.
-Oh. You're quite right, Peter-Walter reconciled with his decision. He saw Olivia enter the room and he positively beamed.
-Agent Dunham, you look great tonight!
-Yes, Olivia, I love the dress!-Astrid exclaimed.
-Don't be such a prude, Peter, turn around and tell agent Dunham she looks lovely tonight!-Walter urged his son.
Peter slowly turned around and he almost spilled the drink he was holding. His breath caught in his throat and he gulped heavily. She. Is. An angel. –was the first thought that came to his head. Peter never saw her in a dress, let alone in a dress that allowed her alluring curves to fully show themselves… It was otherworldly. Her hair was down too. It was just too much for him and he stood there agape for a second. Then one of her eyebrows shot up into the air quizzically and Peter quickly composed himself. He remembered how they fought just minutes ago and he bowed to her mockingly, shielding his heart once again, his gaze never leaving hers.
-You look lovely tonight, agent Dunham-he said smoothly.
-Thank you-she couldn't help but chuckle a little seeing how he tried to hide his confusion.
Ella interrupted the moment running over to the pile of presents she got.
-Ella, darling, can you count them all?-Olivia asked her niece.
-Yes, Aunt Liv, I got… Six presents!
-Ok… Now open them one by one…
-I'm gonna open mommy's present first! And Grandpa Walter's present was a cake and I am going to try it later! And Baldilocks gave me this hippopotamus drawing!
Walter looked ashamed and pleased when he heard how the girl called him.
Rachel's present was enormous. It was standing on the floor and Olivia wondered briefly what it was.
-A small bicycle! Thank you mommy!-Ella exclaimed hugging her new violet bicycle. –Can I learn how to ride it now?
-Not now, sweetie-Rachel replied… -Tomorrow, it's too late now, it's dark outside.
Ella ripped open Olivia's present and squealed with delight.
-Burlap Bear! I wanted this book sooo much! Are we going to read it together tonight, aunt Liv?
-Of course, Ella-Olivia confirmed with a small smile.
Astrid stepped forward and placed the small rectangular box into Ella's hands.
-I got you this.
Ella didn't recognize the present at first, but then Rachel told her:
-Those are earrings, honey.
-Like the ones you and aunt Liv wear?
-That's right Ella.
-Thank you so much, Astrid! I never had real earrings and now I can wear them too and be a real princess-Ella kissed Astrid soundly on the cheek.
-You're welcome-Astrid replied warmly.
-Now I want to see what uncle Peter bought me! Maybe he bought me a dress for princess!
-Uh… Actually, no, Ella-he smiled guiltily. –You know, princess needs to be beautiful every day, but princess also needs to be smart-he risked a glance in Olivia's direction and saw she was smiling.
-You mean to know science like you and Grandpa Walter?
-That's exactly what I mean. So I got you this cool board game, it's called "Totally gross", you can play it with your mom and your Aunt… It's like a quiz, really…
-What's a quiz, uncle Peter?
-Well, it has a lot of papers with questions and you have to answer them… But be careful! The questions are related to science…
-I like the way it's called! I wanna play it tonight!
-Ok honey, we'll play your game first and then we'll read the story-Olivia promised.
Peter looked at his wristwatch.
-It's twenty past nine. Let's eat, play some music, and… In thirty minutes, this party will officially be proclaimed successful and over, because I know a certain little girl who needs to go to bed.
-Well I'm going to cut the cake! Which one do you want to try first, Ella? Your Mommy's or Grandpa Walter's?
-Grandpa Walter's is cool!-she said in her childish voice.
They obeyed her, placing the five candles on top of the Frankenstein's cake and turned off the light for the second. While they were singing a "Happy Birthday to you" song, Peter made sure he was standing right next to Olivia. She smelled divinely… It was a mixture of vanilla and honey scent… So sweet, simple and down-to-earth aroma… And yet so rich and intoxicating. So… Olivia-ish. He wanted to hold her in his arms so badly…Olivia felt him standing behind her but she didn't turn around. She stiffened nervously and looked straight ahead.
Rachel cut the cake and Ella and she tried some.
Walter finally chose gramophone record and the music filled the room…
-Now Peter… I am sure you remember the magnificent band The Who…
-Of course I do, Walter… I liked listening to their songs when I was a child. I still do.
-Whenever I hear this song, it reminds me of you, son… And all the years you spent alone in the world… And it was all my fault… You grew up without your father's support…
-Come on, Walter…-Peter hugged him awkwardly… We're all past that… Aren't we? We live together now… No sad topics today! Not on this little lady's birthday…
-Aunt Liv, dance with Uncle Peter!-Ella exclaimed happily…
-Um… No…-Peter mumbled, flushed… -I'm not really much of a dancer.
-You're kidding, right? Liv and I went to dance classes when we were little… We're pros, right Liv? And I'm sure she mentioned me you play the piano marvelously. That means you have sense for rhythm. You just need someone to guide you…
-Well in that case, if you insist…-he stretched his hand to Olivia, whispering-May I have this dance?
She shook her head slightly, amused and said:
-Let's see what you got, Bishop.
-Not much, I assure you-he grinned defensively. -Walter, I hope that song you were talking about is slow-Peter joked.
-Oh, yes, yes it is, son… It is slow…
-Good. I don't wanna fall over Olivia or something like that.
His eyes met hers, challengingly:
-Well, my lady, I am at your mercy. Tell me what to do.
Olivia trembled a little. She was not used to having his face so close to hers. She slowly took in the color of his dilated pupils… She never knew what his eye color was to begin with and she wondered whether it reflected his current mood. At that moment, while he was placing his warm hands carefully on her thin waist, they were deep and lustrous dark blue, and he looked… Dangerous… Something glinted behind those pupils, a certain hidden thought or an unknown intention…He smiled widely and she paid attention to his lips. A small smile appeared around her mouth and she lowered her gaze to his chest.
Peter felt like a furnace. He was burning with desire and gulping heavily. Suddenly it was too hot in the room. He didn't know where to look, where to put his hands, or how to move… Wherever he placed his fingers, it felt wrong… And so good, at the same time. And then she wrapped her arms around his neck and motioned towards her waist. She was closer to him than ever. Well, no, actually, he thought, remembering how he pulled her from the tank and the way she clung on to him while her heart was beating frantically. But this was different…
He nearly fainted when he heard her whisper in his ear.
-Relax, Peter, and just… Let me guide you.
And that he did… He just let her take the lead as the song was beginning to play… Listening to the lyrics, he shook his head. Walter really overdid it this time.
No one knows what it's like… To be a bad man… To be a sad man… Behind blue eyes… No one knows what it's like to be hated… To be fated… To telling only lies… But my dreams… They aren't as empty… As my conscience seems to be. I have hours… Only lonely… My love is vengeance that's never free…
The words hit Peter harder than he thought they would. They made him think about his past… About everything he did and he wasn't proud of it.
Olivia sensed him stiffen, she felt his unease. She pulled him closer instinctively, wanting him to feel better, just like he made her feel better so many times before with his consoling words… She didn't know what to do… She placed her head under his chin and she heard him sigh, as his hands moved gently up and down on her back. Peter's heart was beating like crazy and she knew he was upset. They both moved slowly in the rhythm of the song…
No one knows what it's like to feel these feelings… Like I do… And I blame you… No one bites back as hard on their anger, none of my pain and woe can show through…
He thought about Olivia this time, although the lyrics could apply to Walter as well… She was responsible for the feelings he had… For the thorough change in him… And yet he didn't dare to admit how he felt about her… He kept all that bottled in… Peter was running from his emotions, shielding himself from harm…
He heard her speak softly in his ear.
-I'm sorry about tonight-she said, simply, now looking him straight in the eyes. –You know… For what I told you at the door… You were right. Ella is so happy tonight. Thank you.
-It's okay Olivia-Peter replied, shrugging. He couldn't stay mad at her for long… -I should've told you before I organized all this. I'm sorry too.
They both smiled timidly at each other and then he pressed her tighter to his chest… He whispered huskily to her:
-Well, what do you know…
-What?-she raised her head almost brushing his lips in the process and he just smiled, placing his head on her tiny shoulder. Peter was enjoying every second of their dance.
-I still haven't stepped on your feet.
-You're a fast learner, then-she teased him.
-Either that, or you are a really good teacher. You know, there is another version of this song…
-Oh yeah? Which one? You mean the one by Limp Bizkit?-she sounded genuinely interested, albeit distracted by the rumbling sound that she could hear reverberate through his chest whenever he would speak, by his deep voice and his hot breath… His whole body is radiating so much heat, Olivia thought.
-No, actually, I meant the one that goes like this: No one knows what it's like to be the Batman… To be the Sandman… Behind blue ice…
She chuckled lightly and it was music to his ears. Peter was on cloud nine. He could feel her soft skin under his fingers… He caressed her full, luxurious silken hair and gulped, feeling her breasts pressed onto his chest… He wanted the song to last forever. Peter imagined his fingers pulling down the zipper of her dress, leaving her gloriously naked in front of him…
Olivia felt his warm, gentle hands on her back and she heard his ragged breathing… She tangled her fingers gently into his unruly hair and then she realized what was happening and she pulled them out, quickly. She was getting caught up in him, overtly caught up in him…