And Then There Were Five
Future fic. Takes place in the timeline I established in "Olivia," but all you need to know is that Rachel has twins.
"So have you told Peter yet?" Rachel asks, wheeling the shopping cart onto the baking aisle. Olivia watches as her sister selects first sugar, then flour, and adds them to the basket, nudging two-year-old Jack's hand out of the way as he reaches to investigate from his spot in the buggy.
"Uhh, no," Olivia answers finally, blinking.
"Why not?" Rachel asks, throwing her a look as she hands Jack an old plastic cow, reminding him of the abandoned toy.
"Because I just found out today, Rach."
"No, you just confirmed it today," Rachel corrects, eyeing her as she drops cinnamon and nutmeg in next to the flour.
"Exactly. And I've been wrong before, so there's no point – "
"How far along are you?" Rachel interrupts, contemplating the cloves.
Olivia swallows. "Eight weeks."
That earns her a look. "Seriously, Liv? And you're just now going to the doctor?"
"Look, Rach – I know it's a bit late, but things've been busy. Between the case and Etta starting school this week, I haven't had time to think about it."
"Eight weeks," Rachel shakes her head. "By that point, I didn't have a choice – the twins announced themselves." Right on cue, Jack tries to stand from his seat in the basket. Rachel presses him back down, distracting him with a loud raspberry on the cheek, which causes his sister to shriek with laughter from her spot up front. "Annie – shh. Inside voice, remember?"
Annie only bangs her fists on the handle, begging, "Me, now, Mommy, me, me. Get me!"
"Peeease?" she amends, and Rachel obliges, which only multiplies the giggles.
Olivia grins. "You're really good with them, you know."
Rachel shoots her a look. "Yeah? Well, I'm just distracting myself from the fact that I'll be impossibly old by the time they graduate."
They continue onto the canned goods aisle, where Rachel restocks her pantry and Olivia tries to silence her growling stomach. (The thing about morning sickness is that she never eats breakfast, which leaves her starving by lunchtime. It's a wonder Peter hasn't noticed her strange eating habits by now. Then again, he's busy with the case. They all are.)
"Have you decided how to tell him?"
Olivia blinks. "What?"
"Have you decided how to tell Peter you're pregnant?" Rachel repeats, frowning at the label on a can of cream of mushroom soup. When Olivia doesn't answer, she looks up, mouth dropping open. "Liv." Her voice is full of consternation. "You are doing something cute, right?"
"Yes. Cute. You know, like – "
"I know what you mean, Rach. It's just…" she extracts a hand from her folded arms, shrugs helplessly. "I'm not creative. That's Peter's domain."
"Fine. I'll help you."
"You really don't have to do that."
"No, I really do. You have to make this special."
"I hardly think cute is going to make it special."
"Well, no. But it has to be memorable. Like when you found out about Etta."
Yes, like Etta. Because everyone finds out she's pregnant when the doctor examines her to make sure she's not going to drop dead from the bullet that ripped through her brain hours before. Olivia pushes the thought far away, focuses on remembering the details of the story they'd concocted to tell Rachel instead. Something about morning sickness…? No, because she hadn't had that with Etta.
"All I'm saying," Rachel continues, "is that this is probably the last time you're going to share news like this, unless you're crazy and end up with a teenager and five-year-old while pregnant with twins like me. So you might as well make it memorable. Something other than Peter, I'm pregnant."
"Crap," Rachel says upon seeing her expression. "I didn't mean it like that."
"No, you're fine. I get what you're saying. It's just that we were all a little distracted that day."
"Really?" she frowns. "I thought it was a work physical that told you."
Olivia backpedals. "Right." So that's what they'd told her. "But we'd just closed a big case, and Astrid was in the hospital with a GSW, and Peter had dislocated his shoulder…"
Oh, and Walter killed me to save both universes from being destroyed by William Bell.
"Sometimes I forget how crazy your job is," Rachel says, and turns onto the next aisle.
For the next hour, Olivia follows her sister around the store, vetoing at least a dozen different "memorable" ways to tell Peter she's pregnant. Rachel's creativity ranges from crafts to cookie cakes, but all of them rub Olivia the wrong way.
"Too cutesy," she responds when her sister suggests making a T-shirt, and the puzzle idea is "too complicated." Bringing other family members into the project "just isn't fair, because Peter should be the first to know" and when Rachel points out that she already knows, Olivia merely rolls her eyes. Finally, standing at the register, Rachel throws up her hands.
"All right. I surrender. Be your boring old self." But she says it with a smile.
Olivia shakes her head, relieved, and finishes bagging the groceries. Together, they load them into the buggy and head for the van. The humid September air hits them like a wet towel across the face, and Olivia groans, scraping her hair into a messy bun.
"Ugh," Rachel agrees, popping the trunk. "This is disgusting. I really hope Ella's not walking dogs today."
"Is she at the shelter?" Olivia asks, unloading the cart.
Rachel nods. "She's trying to get as many volunteer hours in as possible before the track meets start. After that, she'll have to pick up after-school shifts, since her weekends will be full." She pops the lid off the cooler and starts to comb the bags for refrigerated items. "You know," she says, settling frozen peas in the bottom, "I've got the soccer mom vibe down."
"Now all you need is a kid who plays soccer," Olivia laughs, handing her the last of the bags.
"Ha, very funny," Rachel says, making a face. She slams the trunk and reaches for Annie, swinging her out of the buggy. Olivia takes Jack and shoves the shopping cart into a nearby return corral.
"Walk with me to the shelter?"
"Sure." Lucille's Pet Rescue and Adoption Center, the animal shelter where Ella volunteers twice a week, is within walking distance of the supermarket, something Rachel takes full advantage of every chance she gets. Olivia shifts Jack into a more comfortable position and steps up onto the sidewalk.
"Did Greg drop her off this morning on his way to work?"
Rachel nods, brushing Annie's bangs out of her face. "Yeah. She wanted to get some hours in before the heat got bad. And the humidity." She makes a face.
"I guess she's serious about this vet stuff."
"Yeah. Something like that." Rachel smiles wryly. "If you ask me, it's all your fault. Yours and Walter's. She absolutely fell in love with that cow – Gene?"
Olivia grins. "Ah. So that's why you moved back to Boston. Right, Jack?"
"Right!" he crows, and Rachel rolls her eyes. Olivia laughs.
A bell jangles as they enter the animal shelter, and a woman with frizzy gray hair looks up from her newspaper. "Hey there, Mrs. Blake," she calls out, wide leathery face splitting into a grin. "How're you today?"
"Doing fine, Lucy. And please, call me Rachel."
Lucy waves her off, throwing a wink at Olivia. "You here for Ella?"
Rachel nods, pushing her sunglasses to the top of her head. "She in the back?"
"Mm-hmm." Lucy fans herself with the folded paper. "You can go on back if you like. I had her on dog walking duty today, so she's probably grabbing a shower. And uh, sorry for the heat – air conditioner's out, and the company can't send someone till tomorrow."
"No worries," Rachel calls out, already halfway to the back. Olivia follows with Jack, stopping every few feet to let him gaze wide-eyed at the animals in their cages.
"Izard?" he whispers breathlessly upon seeing an iguana.
Olivia nods. "Yeah, lizard. Can you tell me what color he is?"
"Geen," he intones, still mesmerized. Olivia grins.
"Good job, Jack." She presses a kiss to his cheek. "You're so smart."
Jack squirms happily at the praise, and Olivia hurries to catch up with her sister.
"Hey Aunt Liv!"
It takes her a moment, but eventually, Olivia realizes that her niece is not in the shower. Instead, she's sitting cross-legged on the floor, a giant, panting dog sitting happily in her lap. Hiding her, actually.
"Doggy!" Jack shrieks, lunging forward. Olivia grunts, catching him, and manages to wrangle him back onto her hip.
"Is that a golden retriever?" she asks, raking loose hair out of her face.
Ella peeks around the mass of fur and nods. "Well. Sort of. She's a mix, though the shelter can't tell exactly what."
"She's a mutt?"
"Huh," Rachel remarks, and Olivia has to agree with her. The dog looks like a purebred.
Ella pushes the golden off her lap and stands, peeling her tank-top away from her ribs, oblivious to her mother's grimace. Dog walking duty, indeed.
"This is Piper," Ella announces proudly, "and we've become best buds. Haven't we, Piper?" The dog stands and looks at Ella, barking softly as she does. Ella turns to Rachel expectantly.
"Ohh, no. No you don't. We are not getting another dog, Ella Blake."
Olivia stifles a laugh.
"Mom, please? She's been spayed already, and that plus my volunteer discount will make her so much cheaper than Eddie's dog."
Rachel eyes the retriever warily, shifting Annie on her hip. "And where do you propose to put this dog?"
"In the house."
"But she's a golden retriever!"
"Yes, but Mom, goldens are very sociable animals, and they need to be close to their owners. Otherwise, they'll tear up the yard."
"I don't know, El…"
"Please?" The girl is begging now, shoulders limp with the effort. "She's fully grown, which means she's house-trained, she's been to obedience school, and she's a runner. Which means that I can exercise her and get my track runs in at the same time. Plus, she's great with kids," Ella adds, smiling hopefully.
Rachel frowns. "How do you know so much about this dog? I thought she was a stray."
Ella shakes her head. "Her owner's daughter brought her in – apparently the owner died of a stroke, and the daughter was going to take Piper in, but her husband got a job and they're moving to Nevada next month, so… yeah. They brought her to the shelter." The dog sits with a thump, leash jangling, and Ella crouches to pet her. "She's a good dog, mom," she pleads, looking up. "Really. I promise."
Rachel sighs. "I don't doubt it. She looks like a good dog. And you're right, she would be cheaper. But you're going off to college in two years, and then who will take her running? You know your dad and I don't run."
Ella shrugs. "Eddie could take her."
"Eddie is seven years old."
"But he'll be nine when I leave – "
"—which is still too young to take a dog running on his own. Especially a dog that big."
Ella's shoulders slump. "Yeah. Okay," she mumbles, rubbing the golden's silky ears. The dog whines and leans into her touch, tongue lolling out in a happy pant.
Olivia watches, arms folded around Jack's waist. And she's a runner. Ella's words tug at her brain. She swallows. "I could take her."
Ella's face lights up. "Really, Aunt Liv?"
She nods, and suddenly Ella is hugging her, exclaiming, "Oh, you're the best!" Olivia laughs, returning Ella's embrace, and kneels to stroke the dog's ears. Jack pets her too, little fingers disappearing in the carpet of pale yellow fur.
"Wait, Liv. I thought you said Peter is allergic to dogs," Rachel says, stepping forward.
"He is," she concedes, standing. Piper stands with her, pink tongue lapping at Jack's chubby fingers. "But he had a Lab growing up, and he claims Walter made it non-allergenic." She shrugs, taking the leash from Ella and winding it around her palm. "I'm sure Nina has the file at Massive Dynamic." Somewhere.
Rachel shakes her head, biting back a smile. "You're crazy."
Olivia grins. "I know." They have talked about getting Etta a pet. Of course, Peter assumes it will be a cat, but Ella's sold her on the dog. And surely Nina has that information somewhere. Right? She glances down at Piper, rubbing the dog's coat. What have I gotten myself into? Already, she can feel herself falling for those limpid brown eyes.
They make quick work of the transaction, one of the workers taking the dog back to get shots while Olivia handles the paperwork. Lucy, the owner of the shelter, asks for her ID, inquires if she has any current pets, and finally requests proof of residence, something that momentarily throws her for a loop. Luckily, Olivia has their electric bill stuffed in her purse from the day before, when she'd rushed to pick Etta up from school and forgot to drop the mail on the counter; the name and address at the top are proof enough for Lucy. And, once Ella talks her into giving Olivia the family discount, the price of adoption is considerably cheaper.
All in all, the process is a lot easier than Olivia expected. In under an hour, she finds herself exiting the animal shelter, proud owner of a golden retriever mutt mix.
Ella is beside herself, chattering on and on about Piper and what a good find she is, and did Olivia know that mixed breeds are actually healthier than purebreds, because they have all the best traits of both breeds? Olivia laughs and listens to it all, giving her niece another hug before Rachel herds her into the van.
"Thanks for keeping me company today," Rachel says as she buckles first one twin, then the other into their car seats. "These two are cute, but they're not the best conversationalists. In case you haven't noticed."
"It was fun. We should do this more often."
"What," Rachel retorts, ducking Jack's fist as he protests his sudden loss of freedom, "spontaneously adopt dogs, or brainstorm ways to tell Peter you're pregnant?"
"What?" Ella shouts from the front seat, and Rachel winces.
"Oops. Sorry. Looks like your secret is out." Ella is already halfway around the van, practically vibrating with excitement, but Rachel snaps her fingers and says, "Uh-uh, back in the car."
"But Mom, she's – "
"Pregnant, yes, I know. Now get back in the car. You have seven months to be excited. My groceries, however, do not."
Ella slumps back into her seat and Olivia exchanges looks with her sister, laughs at the exasperation she sees there. "Send her over for ice cream tonight if you want," she offers. "Etta will love it."
Rachel smiles ruefully. "Will do. That is, if Greg lets her have the keys. He still doesn't want to admit she has her license."
"Of course. Well, do your best, and if I need to, I'll come get her."
"Thanks, Liv," Rachel gives her a quick, fierce hug before sliding into the van. Olivia waves and heads for her own car, Piper's leash around her wrist and pet care papers firmly in hand. Now. All she has to do is convince Peter she's not crazy.
Should be simple enough.
The first thing she does upon getting in the car is call Nina. Luckily, her hunch was right – Walter's files are at Massive Dynamic, and Nina promises to have them sent over first thing tomorrow. Olivia ends the call with a sigh of relief.
The ride home is uneventful – she rolls down the windows and grins as Piper noses the wind, tongue lolling – and soon she's pulling into the carport and cutting the engine, pulling the key out of the ignition. Olivia's hand is on the door handle when Piper whines and looks at her as if to ask, "Do I stay or go?"
Liv pauses, running a hand over the dog's silky ears. Rachel was right – she looks just like a purebred. Olivia never would have guessed there was a trace of mutt in her, had Ella not told her beforehand. The dog stares at her with soulful brown eyes, and Olivia smiles. "You're a keeper, all right." Now let's just hope that Peter thinks the same.
She pulls in a breath and opens the car door, exiting, leans in through the window to give the dog one last pat before heading inside. Better she break the ice alone than bring Piper in unannounced. And besides, she's still trying to figure out how to share her other bit of news…
She finds Peter in the living room, engrossed in dissecting some sort of machine – either it's something she's never seen before, or he's dismantled it so thoroughly that only he can tell what it used to be.
"Hey," she says softly, dropping her keys onto the corner table.
He looks up, smiling when he sees her. "Hey yourself. How'd your day with Rachel go?"
"Great. Greg had Eddie at work with him, so we went grocery shopping with the twins."
"Seems like an awful long time to go grocery shopping," he laughs. "It's almost four o'clock."
Olivia shrugs, dropping onto the couch. "We picked Ella up at the shelter, too." She rubs a thumb along her palm, wondering how best to tell him what else she picked up at the shelter.
"Where's Etta?" she asks instead, looking around.
"Uh, she's back in her room," Peter answers, returning his attention to the gutted mess before him. "I think she heard you come in though, because she hollered to make sure I wouldn't – "
"Mommy, Mommy!" Etta yells, rocketing into the room.
Smiling, Olivia stands to catch her, twirling around, and then stops to deposit a kiss on her cheek, followed by a round of butterfly kisses. Etta squirms and giggles, gasping, "That tickles. Your lashes tickle, Mommy!" before wriggling to the floor. "Guess what?" she crows, bouncing on her bare brown feet.
Olivia chuckles. "What?"
"Daddy taught me to ride my bike!"
"Ohh, he did?" Olivia glances at Peter, sees him grinning. "Well good for you, Etta bear. Have you been practicing?"
Etta settles down a little, concern creeping over her brow. "A little. But Daddy has to work, so I get to play inside until you're ready to run. Then I can ride in front of you, on the way to the park."
Suddenly, Olivia knows how to sell it. "C'mere," she says, standing, holding out her hand. Etta takes it willingly, still bouncing, and Olivia glances over her shoulder, says to Peter, "You, too. I have a surprise."
He shoots her a look, that amused, frowning sort of smile, but follows anyway, abandoning his project to the coffee table.
"What's this all about, Liv?" he asks, but she only lilts,
She leads them through the kitchen and out the side door to the carport, where Etta stops dead upon seeing the dog.
"Is that – for real?" she whispers, taking a few cautious steps forward.
"Mm-hm," Olivia hums, taking her daughter's hand once more. She leads her around to the passenger side and opens the door. Piper stands to greet them, thrusting her nose in Etta's face, who giggles and skitters back.
Olivia laughs, rubbing Piper's coat. "C'mere. She's just excited to meet you. Yeah, try it like that." She guides Etta's fingers behind the dog's ears, showing her how to scratch the way she likes it. "Better?"
Etta grins up at her, yelping when Piper's tongue catches her chin. "She likes me!"
Olivia nods and steps back, turns her attention to the less-enthused member of the family.
"Before you start, I called Nina, and she's sending over Walter's research on the non-allergenic treatment tomorrow morning. She can sleep in Etta's room until we figure it out."
The wrinkle in Peter's forehead softens, arms loosening a little from their position across his chest. "Are you sure this is a good idea, though? Goldens are – "
"Known for their gentleness with children," she interrupts. "Look, Peter – " she steps forward, hooking her fingers between his folded arms, "I know we were thinking a cat, and this is kind of spontaneous, but – "
"Mommy, I love my dog!" Etta suddenly bursts out, throwing her arms around Piper's neck. The dog, to her credit, stays completely calm.
"See?" Olivia raises her eyebrow. "Great with kids."
Peter still appears unconvinced.
"I have it on good authority that she's a runner," Olivia tries again, leaning against the open door.
Peter shoots her a look. "And? I already have my running partner."
"True." She watches him out of the corner of her eye. "But I'll be out of commission in oh… about two months."
He's still staring at the dog. "Out of commission? What – " And then it hits him. "Out of commission." He turns to face her. "No joke?"
She nods, giddiness making her stomach flip.
His eyes light up. "And you're positive?"
He kisses her then, just like he did six years ago when she told him about Etta, and he would have kept kissing her, had her laughter not bubbled out. They break apart, both laughing now, and she grins up at him.
"So you like the dog?"
"Like the dog?" he rasps, voice shaky, hand warm against her cheek. "Like the dog?" And then he laughs. "You crazy, beautiful woman."