"Hey," Peter said when Olivia walked into the lab the next morning.
She gave him as good a smile as she could manage. She'd barely slept last night. "Morning."
Walter waved madly. "Good morning, Olivia. I have sent the nice young lady, Allison-"
"Astrid," Peter corrected.
"Astrid," Walter repeated without missing a beat, "to fetch me some popcorn." He grinned widely. "She says that we can now make popcorn right here, in the microwave! Fresh popcorn in your own home; marvellous, yes?"
She nodded. "Yes." Walter's childlike enthusiasm for the simplest of things always cheered her up.
"You can share, of course." Walter nodded to himself, pleased at his altruism. "Sharing is good." With that he went back to his microscope, whistling an ad jingle.
"Not always," Peter muttered, making Olivia wonder what delightful piece of information Walter had shared this time to make his son so uncomfortable.
With his father occupied, Peter gestured with a flick of his head and Olivia followed him over to the relative privacy of Astrid's vacant desk.
She nodded. "I'm fine."
He stared at her a long moment. Olivia knew that stare. It was the "assessing" stare that most agents developed over time. She thought again how Peter's talents had been wasted up until now when he jumped to the correct conclusion.
"You got a card."
She shrugged. "Yes."
Peter sighed. "I'm sorry."
"It happens every year." She wanted to brush it aside. There was no way she was telling him that this year it was worse, that this year the card had been hand-delivered. He hadn't sent it to her at work; he'd not even just sent it to her home. The sick bastard had actually gone to her home and slipped it right under the door. The thought of it made her feel sick. She was in denial about it, hadn't even told Charlie, certainly wasn't going to tell Peter. It wasn't his problem. He had his own parental issues to deal with.
Peter picked up Astrid's stapler and toyed with it. "I was thinking," he said.
"Oh?" Olivia waited patiently.
"It doesn't seem fair that you miss out on your birthday. The one day of the year that should be all about you. If nothing else, given what we've seen, a chance to say 'I've survived another year', you know." He placed the stapler back down. "So I think you should pick another day. That would show him, wouldn't it, that he can't control you. That he can't ruin your happiness. Pick a day, one that's not about him. Enjoy yourself, celebrate with your friends."
He was being serious, his green eyes intense. Olivia opened her mouth to speak and found she was lost for words. "Pick another day?" she repeated the best she could come up with.
Peter nodded. "An official birthday," he said, his tone lighter. "Like the Queen of England."
"Met her once," Walter interjected, though he hadn't moved from his position at the workbench. "Lovely woman. We had soup."
"What sort?" Peter asked, half-teasing, half-serious. Who knew what Walter had actually done and what he'd only accomplished in his wild imaginings?
The scientist paused for a moment, looked at the ceiling thoughtfully, and finally said, "Oxtail." With that he went back to his work.
Peter shook his head. "As I was saying, an official birthday."
"I don't need a birthday," Olivia began.
"It's my birthday next month," Peter told her suddenly. "But you know that."
She did know that, of course. It was in his files. It hadn't really registered, though Astrid, being the organized person she was, would probably already have reserved a cake from a local bakery and picked out a card for her and Olivia to sign. So she simply nodded.
"I've had some pretty lousy birthdays," Peter went on, quickly, as if afraid he'd run out of steam before completing his train of thought. "I mean, Walter once got me a chemistry set. Which yes, it would have been nice, expect he spent the rest of the day playing with it. And he stained the rug green, which made my mother pretty annoyed."
Olivia laughed and apologised for doing so.
"No, it was pretty funny if you weren't there," Peter said ruefully. "Anyway, I just thought we could take your sucky birthday and merge it with my lousy one and say-"
"Hey, we've survived another year," Olivia put in. Her smile this time was genuine.
He put his hands in the pockets of his jeans, just a touch embarrassed. "Yeah."
"There'd be cake, and presents," Walter added, apparently having been eavesdropping again. "And balloons. There must be balloons. With helium."
Peter shook his head. "You don't want to see him with helium."
"Traditional balloons," Olivia called across the lab, adding to sweeten the pot, "We can blow them up ourselves. Won't that be fun?"
"And make balloon animals?" Walter asked hopefully.
"Absolutely," she promised. She reached out tentatively and touched Peter's arm. "Thank you. I think you're right. We could do with something to celebrate."
By the time Astrid returned with the popcorn, Walter was already drawing a diagram of how the multitude of candles should be arranged on the cake, and was loudly singing "A Very Merry Un-Birthday" from Disney's animated version of "Alice in Wonderland".
Astrid merely sighed and added "extra fire extinguisher" to her shopping list.