This is a birthday fic for Chiara...it was just going to be posted to Tumblr but got a little bit longer than I thought. The premise here is Walter gets to Lake Tahoe, witnesses Paige and Tim smiling or laughing, and gets scared and decides to back off.

Happy birthday, Chiara!


"Walter!"

He almost didn't turn around. He thought he was imagining her voice, just hoping so hard that she had seen him and followed that his mind decided to play tricks. But he did turn, his eyes widening at the sight of her coming closer. For a few seconds, he could barely see her in the inconsistencies between the streetlights.

She stopped within the same space of light that he was in, about five feet from him, the breeze catching her hair. "Walter, what are you doing here?"

He couldn't come up with a realistic lie even if he wanted to.

"I came to stop you," he said. "I mean, not...not force you to not...I-I came..." he scratched the back of his neck and bit his lip.

She cocked her head, her eyes searching his. He noted her almost frantic stare, but he couldn't tell if it was alarm or anticipation. He remembered her asking him if he was okay, that night he'd very nearly asked her to come here with him.

"You don't love Tim."

He wasn't sure if he'd intended it to come out in the form of a question. He supposed it should have been, but at the same time...how could she love Tim? They all barely knew him.

She looked surprised. "No. I don't love Tim. We've been out a few times, that's all. There wouldn't be time for me to..." she cocked her head again. "Walter..."

"I've been really afraid," he blurted, pausing to take a breath. Her face softened slightly, but he didn't know if she was ready to empathize with him or if she realized what he was going to say. "I've been afraid that if you and I tried to make something work, it would...it would break down. But at some point..." He stopped himself; he could sense that he was about to start rambling. Go for broke. "I don't know how to be in a relationship. Every one I've had has gone badly. Because of me. Because of who I was." Are you telling her you love her or giving her reasons why she shouldn't love you? "But, Paige..." he paused to take another breath, hating how dramatic his respiratory patterns were making this. Just say it. "I love you. And if you want to let me, I promise I'll do my best."

She blinked rapidly, but not enough to prevent Walter from seeing the slight glint that betrayed the beginning of tears. When she spoke, her voice caught, betraying her disbelief at the extent of his actions. "You came all this way to tell me that?"

He nodded.

She was the perfect example of how eyes could be expressive, Walter thought, because the way she looked at him in response to that nod would have been terrifying if it wasn't exactly what he'd been daring to hope for. She pressed her lips together and walked forward, closing the feet between them and coming in close.

He curled his arms around her, feeling her hands press against his back, and tipped his head to rest alongside hers, where she'd rooted it in the crook of his neck. He tensed when she moved slightly, not wanting her to pull away, glad when she just nestled closer. Don't release me. Stay right here. Forever.

Don't be ridiculous, the left side of his brain chided. It was illogical to want to hold her until the end of time. It was impossible. They couldn't stand like this for the rest of their lives.

The right side of his brain didn't care.

He'd imagined dozens of potential scenarios once he'd found her, and all of the ones that went well ended with them kissing. Well – in one scenario he'd ended up on top of her, but his mind's response to that one was to launch itself into protective mode, sending him a slew of alternate reactions she might have to seeing him that hurt so badly he'd lost the ability to breathe and had nearly driven off the road.

This, though, this was the real thing, and he couldn't have imagined it playing out any better. She was in his arms, clinging to him like she didn't want him to release her either, like she couldn't believe he was actually here.