THE shower handle was a bit jammed so Eliza had to press it slightly harder.
"Damn," she muttered a swearword under her breath.
Yet, soon enough, a soothing "skrooosh" sound was heard and she sighed in relief as the warm water engulfed her tired body.
"Well, it's not a royal palace, but at least the shower works well", she said out loud fifteen minutes later, upon leaving the cabin. Then she let out a short "brrr" sound and started to vigorously dry her long dark hair with the towel before walking towards the bedroom.
"Refreshing shower. Just what I needed. Moving to the new place, transporting all these things I own… This was hell of a day. I am so tired. Not to mention this unbearable heat", she licked her parched lips fixing the towel around her body.
Eliza then stood in front of the huge rectangular mirror for a bit longer. It looked as if it were embedded into the wall and it was big enough for her entire figure to show.
"Oh, this mirror is amazing. I've always wanted one this big". She let the towel drop to the floor as she stared at her now nude figure, critically analysing her own reflection.
"Well, well, well, Eliza. Not to be falsely modest, but you look amazing despite the fact you've just turned forty, my darling," she addressed herself. "No sign of the cellulite."
Her finger went through her wet and entangled hair and Eliza sighed as a sad expression roamed her face.
"Although, it still doesn't look like that you are impressing the male part of the populace. Especially not the guys that you like."
Her next step was to sharply slap herself.
"Oh, just stop it, Eliza! These dark thoughts lead to nowhere. It's just… better to try and fall asleep. Let's see if I dream something nice," she said, jumping on the soft bed. "It's a school day tomorrow and it would be for the best if I could get some proper rest. It will take some time getting used to this new place."
She wished a silent good night to herself in the emptiness of the obscure room and drifted away into the maze of her brain.
THE digital clock on Olivia's nightstand was glowing soothingly green, showing exactly 6.18 a.m.
She was staring intently at it, unable to get up and yet unwilling to resume sleeping.
The case with Nick Lane had just came to a close and Olivia couldn't bear the fact she had the same morning routine of push-ups and stand-ups as he did.
Same scarce furniture adorned her apartment, same gray and black, plain, non-descript clothes lurked in her wardrobe.
Who was she, really?, Olivia wondered, reluctant to begin her day when the door behind her back screeched a little and she tensed.
It's probably just Ella, like every morning.
What was strange about that morning was that Ella didn't even announce herself. Her steps were light and quiet and it made Olivia doubt her previous conclusion.
After all, her niece was a giggly bundle of joy who tended to land on her bed with apache screams.
Could it be…Rachel?
But she is never awake this early.
Olivia's curiosity got the best of her and she swiftly turned around.
Her little sister let out a shrill gasp taking her right palm to her chest.
"Oh my God, Liv! You scared me to death! I was sure you were sleeping!"
Olivia sat up in bed with a smile.
"No. Not really, just staring at the clock. Then I heard someone enter and you know, I was just curious. You look funny when you're scared," Olivia added jokingly.
"I swear to God, my heart literally stopped beating there for a second!" Rachel was still trying to calm down and Olivia's eyes then fell on her puffy cheeks.
She was crying.
"What are you doing up so early?" she tried to make her voice sound more like a big sister's one than like an intrigued FBI profiler's one. "Is everything okay?"
"No." Rachel wheezed and breathed out heavily. "Nothing is okay and… I don't think it ever will be."
"What happened?" Olivia's voice was soft, her gaze patient and intent as her tiny pale palm enclosed on top of her sister's hand.
"I needed to talk to you before Ella wakes up. I…" she swallowed heavily casting her gaze on the beige carpet. "I need to ask a favour of you".
"Anything, Rach. You know it. What are the sisters for?"
"I thought that these… Three weeks are just going to be a visit but… We might need to stay at your apartment for some more… temporarily. Just until we get by, I promise. I don't wanna be a nuisance or crash at your place but I… I really don't know where else to go", tears started rolling down Rachel's face on their own.
Olivia reacted immediately by pulling her sister into a strong hug.
"You and Ella are family. You could never be a nuisance to me. And, besides, you can have the apartment to yourselves. I am almost never home anyway. Also, I love having you here. Ella's energy is contagious and she always brightens my day."
"Greg is filing for divorce."
Olivia pondered upon that fact in stunned silence, then simply said:
"I've never liked Greg. I know you so well and I have always felt deep down inside that he didn't deserve you."
"So now we don't have a place to stay and…Olivia…" Rachel couldn't seem to calm down. "He is also filing for custody."
"Rach. Rach, listen to me. I know that you are upset and scared but I can promise you one thing. You are not going to lose Ella. I won't allow it. I won't. Do you hear me? We will fight together for you to get full custody. I will support you in whatever you might need. That bastard won't win at the court."
"Livvy" Rachel was now positively choking in her own tears and gratitude. "Thank you so much. I don't know what we would have done without you."
She stared at her older sister thinking how strong, how reliable Olivia was. Her word was as good as gold.
And if Olivia promised something, you could damn well count on her.
That was incredibly reassuring, having her to lean on.
Ella chose precisely that moment to barge into the room.
"Aunt Liv, Aunt Liv!" she stopped dead in tracks when she saw Rachel in there.
"Mom? What are you doing here awake?"
"Well, I thought that it was selfish of me to sleep in every morning while you and Aunt Liv slave away and cook breakfast so I made some pancakes. How does that sound?" Rachel hastily removed the remaining tears from the corner of her eyes as she gave a quick loving hug to her daughter.
"Blueberry pancakes?" Ella's eyes were now open wide.
"Why yes! How did you guess" Rachel winked conspiratorially.
"I am soo hungry now! And later, can we play a game a friend showed me at school? Pretty please?"
"What game, Els?", Olivia chuckled, landing a loud kiss on her niece's cheek.
"It's called Mirror Image!"
"So what are the rules of this game?"
"Well, it's easy. One of us is original and the other two are copies. So everything the original does, you have to imitate the best you can! And then the original decides who was better at copying!"
"Sure, sounds like fun" Olivia now sat at the edge of her bed and stretched. "Let's go to the kitchen to have some of those Mum's famous pancakes, shall we?" she offered her hand to her niece and her phone rang at the very same moment.
Ella took a glance at the picture on her aunt's mobile phone and frowned when she saw a familiar bald head and stern, black face of Aunt Liv's boss, Mr. Broyles.
That usually meant a whole day ruined for the two of them. And yet, she knew better than to object. Her aunt was a very important person and she saved many people's lives. Ella could be patient. She knew how to be patient.
Olivia took a deep, exasperated sigh and pressed the green answering button as Rachel and Ella, with disappointed looks on their faces, were already tiptoeing out of the room and towards the kitchen.
Olivia's nostrils widened in hunger at the pancake smell.
I won't even get to try them.
"This is Dunham", she recited her famous mantra mechanically and with a hint of professionalism.
"Get the Bishops and agent Farnsworth and meet me at the runway in thirty." Broyles was short and informative as always.
"Excuse me, sir" Olivia asked for the clarification. "Did you just say: runway?"
"We'll be flying on a private jet. Pack only the essential things."
By the time bewildered Olivia had managed to ask something else, Broyles had long hung up and her pride didn't allow her to call back.
After all, that was one thing Olivia Dunham was good at: following orders.
She opened her drawer and pulled out the small suitcase under her bed; then Olivia methodically packed five pairs of underwear, five pairs of socks, five sweatshirts, five bras, five shirts, five pants and a spare pair of shoes.
Her eyes didn't leave her gun for a second as she trailed off to the bathroom to get her black vanity case.
Five minutes later, and after a short "goodbye" to her sister and niece, and "I don't know when I will be coming back", she was out of the apartment and inside of her black SUV.
Broyles didn't give any details about the case and that meant he would probably brief them on the plane.
It was his way to save time and Olivia understood it very well.
Drizzle was obstructing her view but Olivia wasn't about to surrender. She knew she could get to Peter's and Walter's hotel with her eyes closed by now.
There was no need to get Astrid. The girl was resourceful, Olivia gave her that. She was incredibly responsive and fast, and as far as Olivia was concerned, Agent Farnsworth was already moving toward the aforementioned runway.
Olivia then allowed herself a little smile thinking about how both Bishops were probably still fast asleep.
Also, how grumpy Peter would be when she knocks on their door for the umpteenth time in several month they had been working together.
Olivia then caught a glimpse of her stern, focused face in the car mirror and she promptly averted her gaze with a frown.
She never did look looking at herself in the mirror for too long and lately, this animosity had increased, after the episode with Nick Lane during which she firmly thought she was the man himself and making others kill their loved ones, no less.
Pushing that particular case aside and into the past where it actually belonged, she absentmindedly parked right in front of the hotel door.
PETER was struggling to keep his balance.
His new red boots were mighty slippery and the smooth gleamy surface of the lake didn't help much. Actually, it wasn't helping at all.
The chubby boy muttered a swearword as he advanced to the center, now with increased focus and concentration.
Thumper, little gray rabbit from the Disney animated cartoon "Bambie" ran past him. He was wearing a gray waistcoat and muttering to himself, staring at a…
Pocketwatch? The boy wondered, amazed at the sight.
"Oh dear… Oh dear…. I will be late! I am going to be soo late!"
Then Thumper hopped on incredibly fast and Peter thought the rabbit was going the same way as he was.
There is a hole in the center of the lake. I know it. I remember. If I jump inside and fall down, I will be back home.
Thumper was already there.
He even turned around to glance at Peter as if inviting him to accompany him to the journey down below.
Seconds later and after a quick jump and a nod, the rabbit was gone and Peter shook his head violently without understanding.
The hole was no more either.
He fell on his knees, desperate, feeling his crimson scarf wrap uncomfortably around his neck.
"No! Please! Come back! Can you… Open the hole again? Heyyy! Can you hear me! Come back!"
His shouts and screams, that were becoming louder and louder, got lost in the incredibly loud and chilly wind.
The smooth surface of the lake was mute, and inaccessible.
There was no answer, no hole and most certainly no rabbits in waistcoats and with pocket watches.
Only his reflection stared back at him and Peter pressed his nose hard on the transparent ice.
His eyes narrowed instinctively as he started noticing slight differences.
His mirror image had dark brown hair where Peter's was toned with a reddish tinge. The boy before him had extremely pale blue eyes while Peter's were bluish green and with occasional spot of grey.
The other boy's face was freckled.
Yet, apart from that, everything about them was the same.
It was just that… Other Peter, the one from the lake, lacked colour. His face was ashen pale, his scarf azure, his gloves and his mittens dark shade of cobalt.
Something was wrong. It wasn't him. Peter knew it wasn't him. It was someone else.
A stranger wearing his face.
He banged on the ice surface with both of his glove-clad tiny fists.
"Open up! Let me in! I need to get in! I need to go home. Please. Just…I want to…go home!"
"I want to go home too!" the words echoed from the lips of Other Peter. "Open up! Let me out! I need to get out!"
They both started hitting the gelid ice layer as strong as they could, yelling simultaneously and the rhythmical sound their pounding produced hammered on Peter's brain.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
He could almost envision Thumper's leg nervously banging on the snow while Bambie looked at him.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
The lake was gone all of a sudden, replaced with the pale ceiling surface.
Everything from his dream was gun, except the noise.
The brain shattering sound was still there and Peter struggled to place it.
It's the door.
Olivia. Was his second thought.
He sat upright in the improvised sofa bed and stared down at himself.
Thankfully, he had just had a shower mere couple of hours ago and he was wearing his Homer Simpsons pajamas.
Better that then opening half-naked as I usually do.
He hobbled over to the door, tripping over something that he later identified to be carefully arranged Legos. By the time he arrived to the door, Peter was yowling in pain just as he reached the handle.
"Walter! Where are you? Did you put these Legos here?" was Peter's pained interrogation but no matter where he looked, there was still no trace of his father.
I hoped he overcame his closet sleeping stage but I guess I was wrong.
Before opening the door, Peter stopped for a moment, gave himself and the entire room one last check-up and sighed, bracing himself.
He slowly took in Olivia's business-like figure and her sleek golden hair meticulously bound in a non-nonsense ponytail.
She wasn't fooling him, though. He could see she was about to burst out laughing.
Her eyes sized him up, firstly lingering on his chest where a figure of Homer Simpson was devouring a glazed doughnut and then lowering involuntarily to size up his crotch to what he smirked.
He was the first to speak.
"What?" Peter muttered groggily. "At least this is the one time when I open the door for my boss and I am actually decent. You laugh when I open the door bare chested, you laugh when I open them dressed? There doesn't seem to be a way to please you, Agent Dunham."
She merely giggled, placing her hand on her mouth. Then Olivia motioned towards the drawing.
"You like Simpsons?" that struck him as strange. As much as Peter Bishop loved seeing Olivia Dunham's smile and he loved it even more when he was the one making her mouth widen, he simply couldn't imagine her in a relaxed atmosphere where she would be laughing and joking in front of the TV to Homer Simpson's antiques.
"Everyone likes Simpsons." dimples appeared on her cheeks as she cast her gaze down.
"Actually, the real reason why I am wearing this is the following: every god damn night when I go to bed, Walter likes to sneak up on me and check if I am actually breathing."
"Ugh, that must be incredibly uncomfortable" Olivia grimaced.
"You got that right. It's all kinds of uncomfortable and creepy. Also, it's insomnia inducing, let me tell you that. Especially if he ate sweets just before doing so, and his sticky fingers, mouth and ears are all over my chest while he's listening in on the beating of my heart. Wearing this multifunctional pajamas, yours truly makes sure to create that extra protective layer between me and Walter's unwanted invasion."
"May I come in?" she inquired politely, distancing herself from the joke.
"By all means, my lady" Peter faux-bowed, stepping away from the door with a mischievous smile.
"Where is your father?" Olivia inquired curiously.
"To tell you the truth, I don't really know. But let me check in the closet, in the tub and under the bed."
Olivia's eyes widened in wonder when Peter explained some more.
"What? Those are his favourite hiding spots."
Walter choose precisely that moment to appear. He was completely naked and Peter and Olivia both groaned and simultaneously averted their eyes from the sight.
"I am dressed for once and Walter is naked. How's that for a change?" Peter joked but then was forced to rebuke the insane scientist.
"Ugh, Walter! What the hell are you doing?" Peter shouted as he looked back at his father.
"It's Tuesday", Walter replied sheepishly.
"It's Tuesday?" Olivia was bewildered.
"Oh, yeah, he always cooks breakfast naked on Tuesdays", Peter added apologetically.
"I was making blueberry pancakes" Walter said mournfully.
"Awww damn, those are my favourite. Too bad we won't get to eat them" Peter looked like a small sad faced child as he lamented the loss of his breakfast.
"If it's of any consolation to you, I didn't get my share of pancakes this morning either" Olivia told him with a melancholic smile.
Walter went on explaining, still in the nude.
"And as for your question about what I am doing: I am turning my back to you, son, so that you 'don't get a full eye view of my crotch' as you yourself have once so quaintly put it. I know I live in society, with people, and I too, can be considerate." He seemed to be proud of the lesson he had learned and of the behaviour alteration he had adopted.
Peter almost started rolling on the floor from laughter but Olivia's uncomfortable posture and averted, embarrassed gaze made him reconsider.
He decided to look authoritative and to behave like an adult parent of his peculiar elderly son.
"That's nice of you, Walter."
"Thank you son!", Walter replied enthusiastically, pleased for being praised.
"But, guess what?"
"We both now have a full eye view of your butt, so how's that for a change? And me, for one, don't think that Olivia is enjoying at all."
"Don't be such a prude, Peter. She probably doesn't even mind. Agent Dunham most certainly knows how man's ass looks like, don't you, Agent Dunham?" Walter now turned to Olivia for comfort and she just closed her eyes fighting a smile.
"Go on Walter. Put on some clothes, I beg you", his son was trying to coerce him into at least looking decent.
"Peter!" was next Walter's exclamation. "Did you step all over these Legos?"
"Yeah, so what? What's a big deal? Honestly, they harmed me more than I harmed them."
"It's not that, dammit! Must you always be so small minded? I was building something important! It was an experiment regarding molecular structure and you ruined it! Now I have to do it all over again! You pay no attention to things, Peter, and I have told you hundreds of times…"
"Me? I pay no attention to things, Walter? Well that's just perfect, because you know what…You happen to stand naked in the room with two more people without giving a damn how both of them might be feeling as they look upon that particular sight!"
"Hey!" Olivia snapped them out of one of the many domestic squabbles they were used to having.
"What?" Both father and son snapped at her, irritated.
"We have a new case. It's exactly 6.45. We are expected at the airport runway at 7. A.M. I can get us there in seven minutes. You have seven minutes to pack."
After announcing those words, Olivia stood and watched the chaos develop in front of her, incredibly amused by the scene.
Peter was throwing boxers, pants, shirt and sweater at Walter who was trying to put them on hastily, ending up putting the sweater on backwards.
Olivia wasn't about to tell him that.
Walter will have time to change on a plane.
Peter was getting better at those sort of things, organizing everything they might need for their journey as he emerged victoriously from the bathroom with Walter's and his vanity cases.
The bag he chose was significantly bigger than Olivia's but what entertained her most was the way in which Peter was just throwing one garment on top of the other carelessly. Then he sat on the bag to push them all in.
They were so different, Olivia thought, but his boyish and devil may care demeanour made her laugh so often.
He did the same things as Olivia did, but in the other, more reckless way.
She had to admit she found it rather interesting, all that chaos the Bishop boys lived in.
Someone should write a book or film a TV show about the two of them.
It could be called The Bishops.
Loads of people would watch it for sure.
Peter's voice interrupted her train of thoughts.
"Okay, we're good to go."
"Peter," Olivia now positively started chuckling.
"What?" he scratched his nape, not seeing what Olivia was laughing about.
"You are still wearing your pajamas" now her eyes were smiling too and it became hard for Peter to focus on the words she was saying, such was the transformation on her face.
"Oh, crap. Let me just…" he reopened the bag and randomly pulled out a pair of pants and socks.
Olivia blushed when he removed the lower part of his pajamas hastily in front of her, as he was now putting on dark blue jeans.
Walter didn't fail to notice that.
"I don't see Agent Dunham protesting about getting a full view of your crotch so I don't see why she should say anything about mine, Peter," the old scientist was adamant.
"Walter, please. We are in a hurry, so…" Peter stopped the situation from developing further and Olivia was grateful to him for that.
"I suppose Broyles and Astrid will already be there waiting for us." Olivia added absentmindedly as Peter was fumbling with his shoelaces.
"Aspirin is coming too! How wonderful!", Walter seemed full of joy upon hearing those news and ran outside towards Olivia's SUV.
She leaned towards Peter to whisper in his ear and he enjoyed her proximity for the moment.
"Peter. You are still wearing an upper part of your pajamas."
"I know. But, I was thinking, seeing how Walter has his sweater on backwards, we can change on a plane." he winked at her. "Plus, I totally wanna see Broyles face when we meet up with him. It will confirm his opinion about us: The Bishops: one insane, one irritating."