A/N: I think I jinxed myself somewhere by saying I was updating this story fast hahahaaaa! But things happened, like trips to France, and Life. But here's the newest chapter, I hope you'll enjoy it!

Thank you all so much for your support, especially those of you who asked me if I would ever update this again, it definitely motivated me :)



Olivia had first tried alcohol to answer a dare. As usual, the challenge hadn't come from one of her peers.

She had been very young, and at the time, her life had been a succession of dares she gave to herself. She had learned quickly that when you regularly had to go through tough situations, facing each of them as particularly tricky dares usually helped, especially when you were a child who couldn't stand to fail, at anything.

Drinking alcohol had been no different.

She'd known it was dangerous, and that she wasn't supposed to do it, because it was a 'grownup thing'. But dares always tended to involve some danger, and often implied that something forbidden needed to be done. In that case, the danger had come from the fact alone that the alcohol had been her stepfather's.

In her young mind, it had been clear that the liquor played a big part in the transformation she witnessed almost on a daily basis, changing his grumpy and moody self into a violent monster with bloodshot eyes and cruel hands, who yelled ugly lies to her mom and broke many things, objects as well as bones.

She had needed to try it. She had needed to know if the weird amber liquid really was some kind of evil elixir, like the ones she sometimes read about in her books. If it had been, she obviously would have gotten in a lot of trouble by drinking it, but again, she had been young, just a child. She hadn't been grasping the big picture in its entirety; she had seen just enough to want and find an explanation for the destructive pattern that made up her life.

That night, he had left the house a while ago already, like he usually did after he got angry, and both Rachel and her mom had finally fallen asleep, curled up together in a bed. Eight year old Olivia had gone back to the kitchen to clean up the mess –two dinner plates shattered on the tiles tonight, plus the other two that needed to be washed. Her gaze had eventually stopped on his whiskey bottle, still open on the counter.

When she had picked it up, it had only been to close it at first. The smell that had reached her nose had been enough to disgust her, like it always did whenever she had to pour him a shot, because she knew what it meant. She knew that by his third glass, he would probably throw it across the room. Even if she were lucky enough not to have to console her mother in the aftermath of his transformation, she knew she would still have to spend at least twenty minutes sweeping the floor thoroughly so Rachel didn't cut her feet on broken glass.

Olivia had never been particularly neat, but if there were a mess to be cleaned, she had to clean it.

That time, when she had picked up his open bottle, beyond its initial sickening waft, the smell had also been enticing, daring her to raise it to her lips, really, to finally find out why it brought so much violence in her house. She had lowered her face, placing her nose over the opening and breathing in deeply. It had caused her nostrils and throat to instantly burn, and she had recoiled with a grimace.

How could anyone want to drink something so foul-smelling?

It had only kindled her curiosity, of course, and before long, she was taking her first swallow. She had almost chocked on it, gagging right away. She hadn't thrown up, though. She had waited instead. She had waited for the anger to rise up in her scorched throat, for that fury she often felt towards her stepfather whenever he hit her mom to come back, expecting it to be amplified by the alcohol, making her want to yell insults and hit people.

It hadn't happened.

All she had felt that night was a funny kind of numbness, and a very peculiar warmth that had spread through her chest once the burning sensation had subsided a bit.

She had tried again, a few days later, and again after that, until the motive behind her dare had changed. It had gone from doing something forbidden, to doing something he did too, except that she had been the strong one, in that case. When it came to drinking whiskey, she obviously had the upper hand: unlike him, the alcohol didn't turn her into a monster. And just like the liquid itself, this knowledge made her feel the oddest kind of serenity, even if it was just for a handful of minutes.

There also was something quite addictive about this sensation; it made all of her aches seem more…distant. Starting so young and so regularly probably was what had caused her to become so resistant to potent alcohol through the years. It rarely made her drunk, but it always soothed her for a brief few moments

This was most definitely the reason why Olivia quickly made her way to her liquor cabinet that night, after finding the card on her apartment's floor, walking there in a haze that was as familiar to her as the strong pounding of her heart against her sternum.

She felt the adrenaline that was now running through her veins, causing her fingers to tingle as she reached for a bottle that was more than half empty. That burst of energy fought against the other kind of numbness that had invaded her limbs the moment she had spotted the white envelop at her feet.

She had thrown it on her kitchen table, where it would stay until she found it in herself to pick it up again and put it in the trash, where it belonged. It might have to wait until she got a few glasses down, though.

Outwardly, she looked as composed and calm as can be. Her movements were not rushed, being actually slightly slower than the usually swift pace that was present in everything she did; her face was a mask of cold apathy, her gaze unfocused, almost indifferent, and her breathing remained perfectly controlled.

It was all an act, a reaction she had taught herself to assimilate and display years ago, when she had realized that few things were more damaging than letting whatever was devouring your insides take over and get the best of you. She appeared to be unbothered, but inwardly, something frightening and powerful was trashing, a combination of old anger and familiar dread.

No matter what, there was no fear.

Nothing scared her much anymore.

She was definitely on edge, though, her every sense alert as she drank her first shot of whiskey in one go, keeping her eyes on her door. What was particularly eerie this year was that the card had been slipped inside her apartment, not mailed to her. There was no stamp, which meant that 'someone' had had to crouch down on the other side of her door, and push the envelope inside.

Who knew, she might actually have walked right past him outside. Maybe he had been hiding in the shadows, watching her every move while she remained completely oblivious to his presence.

Her gun, securely placed in its holster, felt heavy against her hip now. Pouring herself another glass and quickly bringing her eyes back to the door, she found herself picturing with perfect clarity what she would do if it were to suddenly burst open, and he happened to be standing right there in her doorway. She wouldn't hesitate much, that's for sure.

She would pull the trigger on him for the third time, only twenty years too late. This time, she would not miss his head.

This thought instantly brought up a very recent memory, and she was suddenly remembering a bit too vividly how a man had actually killed himself in front of her eyes, earlier today, by pressing a gun under his chin and shooting a bullet through his skull.

She decided right then that she had seen enough splattered brain matter for one day.

As Olivia lowered her glass again, not without taking another swig of alcohol first, something caught her attention from the corner of her eye; it wasn't enough to make her swiftly turn around and pull out her gun, but it did however offer her a welcomed distraction.

Her answering machine's light was blinking steadily, and the number on it read '1'. She walked to it right away, all too glad to be looking away from her front door, and pressed the play button.

She wasn't surprised to hear Rachel's voice.

"Hey Liv, it's me. I know you don't like to celebrate your birthday, but I made a huge mistake today. I kinda let it slip that it was indeed your birthday, and I now have a very eager and stubborn four year old who refuses to eat her lunch unless I let her call you. Don't hate me, she's doing it out of love."

After some noisy shuffling, the very piercing and excited voice of her niece came on. "Aunt Liv! Mommy told me it was your birthday, so I have to sing you happy birthday!" And without further ado, Ella leapt into the song, which she sang all the way through from the top of her lungs, only slightly out of tune.

Almost miraculously, Olivia found herself actually smiling a little after only a few seconds, her heart swelling at the sweetness that had always characterized her niece. It was impossible not to be affected by such an enthusiastic and lovely gesture.

After letting Ella then ramble for a minute or two about all the drawings she had made for her aunt, Rachel had obviously gotten the phone back. "Like I said, don't hate me, I had to make sure she would eat at some point today. And anyway, it's been way too long since we've last talked. What's happening in your life? Is everything alright? Call me, okay? Love you." And after a final beep, the room was quiet again.

All of the sudden, Olivia felt very tired, her adrenaline rush long gone now, having been replaced by a fatigue that felt bone-deep. She let herself fall on her couch, still clenching what remained of her whiskey, while she pinched the bridge of her nose with her free hand.

On top of everything else, she now felt guilty thinking about her sister and niece; it had been a while since she had called them. She had been going through so much, lately, she had a hard time figuring out how to deal with what had become of her life these past two months. How was she supposed to explain it to Rachel, when she barely understood it herself? There was also the fact that she wasn't even allowed to tell her anything specific at all.

Especially not on her birthday.

As surprising as it may sound, despite all these years and all these cards, her sister still remained completely unaware of their stepfather's annual sick ritual. Olivia had always made sure she would be shielded from this.

It was her burden to carry, her mess to clean; her little sister didn't need to be dragged into this.

No one did.

Up until a few hours ago, Charlie had actually been the first and only person who had known about the cards. The only reason why she had told him was because a year ago, the white envelop had come at work, and he had been right there to witness her reaction. He hadn't needed to probe much; after years and years of suffering through this on a day she should be spending celebrating, it had just poured out of her. It had felt somewhat liberating, to open up to him.

Charlie had always been different from all the men she'd had in her life so far. He had always felt…safe, in a comforting way she had never really known before. Sometimes, he felt more like a father to her than a friend, always there to encourage her and guide her, never judging her. Since the day they had met, and after all these months they had spent working together, she had come to trust him implicitly.

The fact that she had confided in Peter so fast, when they had known each other for hardly two months, didn't make any sense at all.

Unlike Charlie, he hadn't seen the card, hadn't even known it was her birthday, hadn't seen the look on her face when she had realized that her stepfather still managed to bruise her no matter what, the way he did every year on that day. All Peter had done was ask her to stop blowing off steam on him, since he had been the unfair victim of her sour mood all day long.

Next thing she knew, it was pouring out of her again, the whole story, even details she hadn't shared with Charlie. She had told him about the look, about how she had failed. No matter how many times she had tried to convince herself otherwise, she couldn't deny the fact that Peter was different, too.

He was different on a whole new level, though, one she didn't really comprehend, one that unsettled her more than she could explain. For a few hours after revealing her secret to him, she had actually managed to make herself believe that this was exactly the same kind of trusting relationship she had with Charlie.

It had worked, up until that moment they had shared in front of his hotel. She could lie to herself all she wanted, Charlie had most definitely never looked at her that way.

"Happy Birthday."

His wishes had been warm and heartfelt, because he knew what it meant for her, not to get that card. And for the first time in a very long time, she had allowed herself to think that this birthday might actually not be that bad, after all.

It may also have had something to do with the way Peter had been staring at her again, with that unrivaled intensity that only two weeks ago would have led her to avert her eyes right away. She had found herself holding his gaze tonight, always daring a little longer.

Without fully realizing what she was doing, Olivia got her phone out of her pocket. She drank some more of her whiskey as she stared at the black screen, briefly debating with the voices in her head, trying to convince herself that calling him would be pointless.

He was probably asleep, or busy with Walter. The last thing he needed was to have her dump more of her problems on him. The truth was, she didn't even want to tell him about the card; she didn't want to think about the card anymore.

But in the smothering silence of her place, thinking about it was all she could do. The implications of what it meant, to have found it on her floor, not mailed to her, clenched her heart. Her gaze was once again drawn back to the door, and she could just see him, that vicious ghost from her past, with both his hands splayed on the wood, pressing his ear to it so he could listen to her every sound.

Now feeling successfully crept out, Olivia rose up from her couch and made a beeline to her bedroom, downing the last of her glass and discarding it quickly. When she sat at the edge of her bed, she realized she still hadn't let go of her phone. She didn't give it any more thought, dialing Peter's number.

He swiftly answered, starting with a heavy sigh. "The FBI better have serious plans about placing me into some kind of sleep therapy center in a near future. Some of us actually do enjoy sleeping at night, you know, and the lack of it is making me way too aware of the fact that I'm not in my twenties anymore."

"I'm sorry," she apologized immediately, and honestly, feeling genuinely guilty about bothering him again so late. And yet, her uneasiness was already starting to subside, now that she was hearing a friendly voice.

"What is it this time?" He asked, clearly resigned. "Is it gonna make me regret eating these chicken wings Walter insisted we ordered?"

It was only dawning on her now that he was expecting her to tell him about a new case, requesting him and his father to join her at a crime scene. And why wouldn't he? Her calls had always been purely professional, except for that time she had called him weeks ago, right after John's death.

Unsurprisingly, she instantly felt as foolish as she had that first night, closing her eyes and briefly shaking her head, exasperated once again by her own behavior. She most definitely didn't want to talk about the card, with anyone, didn't even want to think about it for the next twelve months, but now, she had to find an explanation for her call.

"There's no new case," she admitted, her mind reeling fervently as her fingers played with the hem of a jacket she realized she still hadn't taken off. "I…I still don't know how I feel about you making a deal with Nina Sharp."

Right. That was exactly the kind of things we wanted to be told over and over again. But the words were out of her mouth before she could stop herself, and all she could do now was curse inwardly.

"Olivia, I'm fine," he told her with poise, just like he had earlier tonight. Thankfully, he seemed more endeared by her apparent concern than bothered by it, obviously taking the bait. "I know saying that will probably make me sound like a jackass again, but doing this was actually the first time I felt truly useful in weeks. Most of the time, between my father's insane theories and your FBI raids, I feel like a fish out of the water around you guys."

If she had been anyone else, someone who knew how to successfully communicate with people, she might have been able to tell him something reassuring, then. She could have convinced him of his worth by pointing out all the ways in which he had actually helped her a great deal of times already, starting by now, since he was effectively distracting her again from something she didn't want to think about.

But as always, she ended up feeling exceedingly awkward and helpless instead, trying to think of something adequate to say in response, which was why she found herself uttering: "I just think you already had enough debts with Fat Eddie without adding Nina Sharp to the balance."

Peter loudly sucked air between his teeth, almost in a pained hiss. "Big Eddie, Olivia," he corrected her. "It creeps me out every time you say Fat Eddie just thinking about what he would do to you if he heard you. And my ego is seriously starting to get bruised, here. Like I told you, I can take care of my debts."

There actually was a slight note of annoyance in his voice now, which brought all of her uneasiness back. "I'm sorry," she repeated, maybe more tersely than she attended to. "You're right, you're a big boy. It's not my place to tell you what to do."

"Nah, it's okay," he told her, the hint of annoyance already gone from his tone, his voice kind again. "You just have this uncanny habit of worrying a bit too much about other people's wellbeing, even on a day when it should be the other way around."

She had relaxed a little since the beginning of their conversation, but at his words, her entire body tensed up instantly. Even though she didn't make a sound, she swore in that instant that he just knew something had changed.

It probably had everything to do with the several seconds long silence that followed. There simply was nothing she could find to reply to this without addressing a topic she did not want to address again.

"Olivia?" he called out after a few moments, and she could hear the barely concealed worry in his tone. She dismissed the thought rapidly, though, like she always did, her eyes once again closed, because she knew he was going to mention the card, there was no escaping it.

"What?" she heard herself say, her voice as tense as her every muscle, now wishing she hadn't called at all, because it had been stupid, and she really didn't want to talk about the damn card.

"Walter just walked right past me to get the leftover wings from the fridge, and he was yet again fully naked. I thought I should remind you of the things I put myself through for the bureau. Big Eddie's got nothing on this, I tell you."

The tension escaped her body all at once. She actually found herself smiling against all odds, grateful for the radical change of topic.

"Well, let's hope he won't join you in bed this time, then," she teased, now remembering the rest of their discussion in front of his hotel.

She especially remembered the way he had leant in to speak almost directly into her ear, once again daringly invading her personal space, while she let him do so quite willingly.

"If he does, I might actually have to relocate somewhere else for good. There are just some things a grown man should never experience with his father, and this one definitely is on top of the list."

"I'll make sure the bureau provides him with a new set of pj's, in compensation for your troubles. Maybe a cow design of some kind will appease his urge to take them off."

He actually chuckled goodheartedly at that. "That might be the first time I hear you really joking around, Dunham," he said, sounding impressed. "I am slightly moved."

"I guess we should leave it that, then. After all, I wouldn't want to keep you from the naked person in your bed."

"And then she ruins it," he said with an exasperated sigh, but she knew he was still smiling.

So was she.

"Goodnight, Peter," she told him softly, the words sounding more like a thank you again, and they both knew it.


She did think of the card again, that night. Of course she thought of the card again. But she also managed to sleep for a few hours.

Sleeping on her birthday, that was a first.


A/N: My life is insanely busy right now, and I think you'll understand if I tell you that I'm choosing to put my school work first, even if it pains me. I have every intention of keeping on writing this story, though, it just might take (much) longer than I thought. Reviews most definitely ALWAYS help :)