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Silent Night

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She slowly emerges from a kind of sleep that is both unusual and familiar.

Unusual, because for most of her life, she’s always been able to go from being asleep to fully aware within seconds. Familiar, because there had been a time a few years ago when falling asleep meant sluggish awakenings, with heavy limbs and a hazy mind.

Tonight, Olivia doesn’t fight it. She lets her body reconnect with her surroundings one sense at a time. With her eyes still closed, smells are what come first; burnt wood, and the vestige of aromas that had permeated the room around dinner time. Peter had outdone himself, the way he often does when in a mood – this mood. Olivia hadn’t touched much of the food herself, but he hadn’t seemed to mind, his daughter’s appetite making up for his wife’s lack thereof.

“Never underestimate the size of a Bishop’s stomach,” Walter once said, when Etta was five months old and already voracious, having just discovered solid food.

Sounds come next. The TV appears to be off, and what had been a dancing a fire earlier has died down, only emitting scarce noises; she’s not cold, though, still covered by a blanket. That’s what her body tells her then, along with the fact that she’s blissfully not nauseous anymore. She feels softness beneath her palm, her hand still extended the way it was when she fell asleep.

Still curled up on the couch, she flexes her fingers lazily, loving the silky feel of Peter’s hair against her skin, and loving the shivers that run under his even more when her nails lightly scratch his scalp. She’d drifted off with her hand in his hair, having spent a timeless moment running her fingers through it; it always gets a bit too long around this time of year, and she can’t say she minds it.

Olivia opens her eyes, all of her focus on him now. He hasn’t moved, still sitting on the floor at her feet, leaning against the couch. His head has fallen back toward her, but it’s tilted to the side, toward the fireplace. Even though she can’t see his face, and she wouldn’t have been able to see much in the poor light, she doesn’t need visual evidence to know his mind has wondered off probably a while ago, looking at the fire.

That’s one of the only ways she still loses her husband; she loses him to his own mind.

She moves, then, uncurling herself, her limbs no longer numb but stiff. Almost soundlessly, she slides off the couch, soon curling up again, against his sides this time, having taken the blanket with her. He helps her put it over them both without a word, wrapping an arm around her, as she does around him.

Her nausea is gone, but this simple change of position was enough to give her a head rush, making her feel faint and lightheaded for a moment; her nerves tingle beneath her skin, causing her to shudder as she snuggles up to him. The sensation isn’t exactly uncomfortable, and not entirely unknown either, but it is odd, making her all too aware of her body again.

Although the wave quickly recedes, the flutters persist a few seconds longer within her stomach, her mind playing tricks on her, now. It’s way too early for this.

Having felt her shudders, Peter has tightened his hold on her, his lips atop her head. “Feeling better?” He murmurs into her hair.

Olivia nods against his shoulder, her nose pressed to his shirt. Against her side, his thumb is drawing small, distracted circles over her shirt. She feels him breathe in deeply; the sigh that follows is just as deep, the shift of his head upon hers letting her know he’s brought his gaze back to what’s left of the fire. She tilts her head to look at the hearth further in the room, covered with nothing but red embers. She’s not close enough to feel their heat, but the thermal energy they give off would be pale compared to the warmth of Peter’s body anyway, building up with hers under the blanket.

She soon turns away from the embers, closing her eyes again as she presses her nose once more into her husband’s shirt, breathing in and out slowly, until his essence has invaded every inch of her.

She knows she’s lost him again, from his distracted caress against her side, to the fact that he’s not fussing more about her recent bouts of queasiness. One would think that after seven years, he’s simply learned not to fuss when she’s unwell. But despite her moments of exasperation caused by his over-protective nature, Peter never stops asking, never stops fussing. He never stops caring.

And it’s not that he doesn’t care about her, or that she’s feeling ignored, that’s beside the point.

The point is, she’s six weeks pregnant, at least, has known for sure for five days now, and Peter has not picked up on any of the clues. If he has, on some level his genius brain always operates on, it hasn’t reached his conscious mind yet.

Again, she’s not upset. She’s aware of the pain he’s in. After what they’ve experienced, what she’s seen him do in these situations, she’s grateful he’s dealing with his grief the way he is. It kills her inside, this sorrow of his, and she’s not unaffected either, between her own heartaches and the odd ripples that followed them back in time. But even after two and half months, the feeling that still dwells in her day after day after day, is relief.

Relief is what makes her seek him out every chance she gets. While displays of affection were never rare when in the privacy of their home, he used to be the main instigator; there’d always been a kind of shyness on Olivia’s part, something holding her back, keeping her from being as affectionate as he was, even with her own child. For fear of losing it all if she let herself need them so blatantly, maybe.

She’s learned her lesson. She lost it all, lost them both, suffered her punishment.

She now lives her life every day as Walter intended her to live it – with her family, loving them and needing them with every fiber of her being.

Feeling the brief yet increased pressure of her hold on him, Peter’s arm tightens around her. His soft caress even stops as he moves his hand, splaying it over her stomach, which has already become firmer; maybe his subconscious has caught up on some things already.

She could just say it, murmur the words against his shoulder, near his ear. She knows how he would tense then shudder against her, knows how beautiful his smile would be, how bright his eyes, and how soft his kiss. With a handful of words, she would push away his grief, too consumed with joy and love at the thought of their unborn child.

Selfishly, she wants to share her secret with him, simply to see all these proofs of how much he will care for her baby, the way he’s done for Etta from day one.

Yet, Olivia bids her time, choosing to remain quiet.

Peter needs to let himself grieve right now, to embrace the loss of his father, at a time of year when he used to be such a big presence in their lives – singing carols days and nights, baking mountains of cookies.

She needs to let him be a child, before she asks him to be a dad.

“I think I’ll go to the Mass, on Thursday.”

He speaks the words quietly, but not quietly enough. His voice is low, and thick.

Her arm moves, unwrapping it from around his waist to bring her hand up, weaving her fingers through his slightly–too–long hair. Tugging gently, she brings his face down to hers to press a kiss to his jaw, lips lingering upon his jugular.

She pulls away, then, looking at him in the soft glow of the embers and of their Christmas tree’s lights. They had let Etta pick the color theme this year, now old enough to appreciate this a lot more than the previous times. She’d chosen red and blue, a bittersweet irony neither her parents had missed.

Peter had closed his eyes at her touch, now reopening them to meet her gaze. She doesn’t ask him why he wants to go, nor does she ask if he wants her to come. Even if Etta had been older and allowed to join the late service, she wouldn’t have offered. These past few years, the Midnight Mass had become one of the Boys’ rituals.

Walter’s relationship with God had been a strange, fascinating thing, one she knew to have been tightly linked with everything that happened after he’d crossed over.

“We used to go to the midnight service every year, me and my mom,” Peter once told her, in this timeline or another. “I can’t remember Walter ever coming with us. If anything, I remember him mocking her for her faith, especially in the last years.”

Olivia remembers the look on Walter’s face three year ago, when on Christmas Eve, he’d asked Peter if he would mind giving him a lift to the church.

“I’ll go with you, Dad.”

Peter had never been religious, but their daughter was born three months ago. Even as a non-religious person herself, and knowing what this meant for them as a family, Olivia had understood the appeal, just like she understands it tonight.

And so she nods with a small tilt of her head, her fingers soft in his hair. “I’ll wait up,” she says quietly, closing her eyes moments later when he leans his forehead against hers, bumping her nose with his.

Already, his hand has moved, having left her stomach, now travelling over her thigh. His caress his slow, undemanding, yet shivers break beneath her skin, incapable not to respond to him. In the aftermath of the reset, there’d been a hunger in their touch, one they’d indulged as often as their life allowed them to – having a three-year-old who’d inherited her mother’s sleep pattern could present some challenge.

The first couple of weeks had been particularly strange, adjusting to this new shift in time, to this empty space Walter had left in his wake, all the while relishing every moment spent together, all three of them, or just the two.

When she’d experienced the first symptoms of pregnancy, she wasn’t surprised, considering she’d chosen not to bother with birth control anymore. Some might have discussed it with their husband, first, but there had been no need. Peter never hid the fact that he would have as many children with her as she agreed to have, even if in the past three years, that number had been firmly locked on one.

And it’s not that she came back to this life with the need to have another child. She simply felt more at ease in her own skin, more at peace, as both a woman and a mother, ready to welcome another little soul into their family, if it were to happen.

As she moves her lips back to Peter’s neck, clutching a fistful of his hair between her fingers, his hand now inside her shirt, she’s not surprised it happened so fast, her every cell always trying to meld with his, it seems.

Olivia is not surprised either when another sensation soon tugs at her insides, one that has nothing to do with lust, or with what hides deep within her womb. She stops moving, stilling in Peter’s arms; she pulls her face away from his neck, leaning sideways to look toward the other end of the living room.

Etta is half-concealed, still in the hallway for the most part, if not for some toes, her nose, one eye, and long strands of disheveled hair.

“Come here, baby,” Olivia calls out softly, Peter shifting to open up the blanket.

Etta doesn’t need to be told twice. She’s already halfway to them, everything in her demeanor letting them know she’s more asleep than awake. She never was a heavy sleeper, but ever since the reset, she’s been prone to nightmares; they all are. Her brave girl rarely cries as a result, but she will regularly join them in the dark of night. She always knows where to find them.

Tonight, like every other night, Etta goes for Olivia’s outstretched arms, her sleepy eyes not even stopping on Peter. During daytime, she’s a daddy’s girl through and through, but after nightfall, when instincts guide her and she longs for warmth and safety, it’s her mother she seeks.

And tonight like every other night, warmth and safety is what Etta finds, curling up against her chest, her breath soon tickling Olivia’s neck, even as she herself snuggles up against Peter once more, while he drapes the blanket back over them all. She buries her nose in Etta’s messy locks, her fingers intertwining with Peter’s over their baby’s back

Feeling her husband’s breath in her hair, and her daughter’s against her skin, Olivia closes her eyes, and lets herself love them.