Pairing/Character: Peter, Olivia, Peter/Olivia UST

Spoilers: Through 1.06

Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.

Author's Note: Mad props to Alamo Girl, who pushed me headfirst into the fandom, for the beta and support. Love and thanks to vagajammer for living with my glee for a new fandom and refusing to give up his title as beta, despite the fact he doesn't watch the series.

Dreaming the Impossible

Peter allows his fingers to wander over the keys of the piano, meandering from note to note, tune to tune, melody loud in the silence of the lab. Damn Walter. The music helps Peter process, yes, to integrate all those disparate bits of information into unified theory, but it also gives him time and space to think.

Before his return to Boston it had been years since he had let himself sit down to play. That last time he was drunk off his ass, too anesthetized for higher brain function, and he much preferred it that way. Lately, though, he just can't resist.

He remembers a time when the world made sense, when he didn't have to rearrange his appreciation of possible versus impossible on a thrice-daily basis. A life where his disbelief wasn't thrown out as bunk every time. A nomadic life, flitting from job to job, from place to place, as whim and whimsy took hold. Never sitting still long enough for his past to catch up with him. Never settling long enough to become attached to anyone or anything.

He hasn't felt this totally out of whack for years. Maybe a decade or more.

Gene lows in the corner, a deep counterpoint to the trickle of high notes, and Peter shakes his head. This isn't a lab but a circus, complete with freaks, clowns, and barnyard animals. In ring one is the crackpot scientist, bringing tragicomic antics to science gone mad; in ring two, the daring federal agent, pursuing justice with any means at her disposal. And he's is in the middle, shanghaied into pinballing between lab rat, plucky assistant, and house band, with the occasional foray into ringmaster, while the two larger-than-life stars of their own little worlds dominate center stage.

He can't change Walter, only accept, despise and maybe—just a smidgeon—pity the man. He's much how Peter remembers him, only more so. More crazy. More brilliant. More obsessive. Despite all that, any competent wrangler could take Peter's place, as long as they had the patience of a saint and the IQ to match. And had a tolerance for being submerged in the midst of shit that could and would get them all killed. But Peter is here, and might as well make himself useful. He's no longer a child, forever failing in his father's overcritical eyes, and he isn't bogged down by caring what the bastard thinks anymore, anyway. The years have made him more than a match for whatever Walter deals out.

Olivia's no better. She's hooked deep and sinking fast, mired in conspiracies and atrocities, in ten impossible things before every meal and the responsibility for saving the world from them all. He knows better than to throw himself in the path of that grim determination. She needs a keeper as much as Walter, and Peter's no man for that job.

But he can make her laugh, shake out a few traces of who she might have been before the world decided her life needed to suck. He can use his knowledge and connections, his disregard for minor inconveniences like laws and due process, to increase the odds of those victories she so intensely needs. He can make sure she never has to walk out to face the darkness alone. He can, if just for a few minutes, ease her burdens that little bit.

He likes doing these things for her, being this person for her.

He is an idiot who needs his head examined.

He bangs down on the keys, discordant and jangling.

His music turns slow and somber as he remembers her not quite meeting his eyes, staring down memories twenty years past and fighting to keep that mask of detachment intact. She shot her stepfather. He closes his eyes against the unspoken weight of history behind those four words. The unspoken level of hell that compelled a nine year old to grab a gun and shoot, and that, twenty years later, still shakes through her iron control.

He should have suspected. All along he's been trying to figure out what drives her; the pieces that had been staring him in the face reassembled with an almost audible "snick" about ten seconds after she had opened her mouth. All along he'd resented her for dragging him in to confront the specter that had haunted him for seventeen years, wanting to hate her for forcing him to sit down and confront his demons and stupidly assuming she had none that could equal them.

In all the impotent fury of his childhood, he'd never gone after Walter. He'd been tempted—hell, some days he still wants to wrap his hands around the man's neck and squeeze—but there was never enough to push him over that threshold from thought to action. The explosion of white-hot fury settles to smoldering coals too quick.

He needs to stop underestimating her. He made his living by reading people, but every time he thinks he has her figured out, she leaves him totally baffled. In his experience, if he doesn't get his act together and quick, his continual misperceptions will lead to a world of pain.

Still might be in for a world of pain, even if he does get his act together.

Peter knows obsession to the point of insanity, that single-minded focus that abandons rationality in favor of lunacy. He lived with it through his formative years, spent every year since refusing to settle long enough be snared by its lingering effects. He recognizes the warning signs leading down that path all too well, and the fact that Olivia and Walter have more in common than an unfortunate fondness for Bach is a little terrifying. If he had any common sense he would grab the next plane to anywhere and be as far away as possible when the insanity goes critical and takes everyone in its path with it.

But he stays. Just another sign of his reality gone topsy-turvy.

He stays now because he has a personal stake, a need to know what's really going on behind this weirdness that's becoming disconcertingly ordinary. He doesn't stay for anything else.

Anyone else.

The door to the office creaks open, signaling that Olivia's popped free of her hidey-hole at last. He knew she'd emerge eventually. Music always draws her out, the flame to her moth. Even though she denies it, his carefully collected empirical evidence proves her wrong.

He doesn't look up at her quick footsteps, or at her pause before she comes down the short flight of stairs, and waits until she's almost reached the piano to speak. "You do know you should leave sometime. Contrary to popular belief, the lab? Not really a substitute for home."

"So should you. Walter?"

"At the hotel, in bed, muttering something about the molecular structure of chlorophyll last I saw him. Which is, of course, why I'm here, not there." He catches the twitch of a smile from the corner of his eye, then her quick, questioning glance towards the hotel miles distant. "He's fine. Won't even know I'm gone. Pull up a bench, let me play you something. Lady's choice." He tilts his head towards the space beside him, scoots over to give her room.

She snorts in disbelief. "Not once have you played one of my requests."

"But you've always liked what you heard. Trust me, Olivia. Can you do that?"

Every part of her goes still, wary, and he curses that the words came out of before his brain could throttle them back. He shifts to playing something soft and soothing, maybe a little wistful. Non-threatening.

She moves at last, perching next to him. "Play something I'll like, then."

Huh. He stops playing entirely, turns to study her profile. Her eyes are distant, but her expression peaceful. She shifts enough to meet his eyes and he can't tell what she reads in them, but the corner of her mouth curves up. "Play, Peter."

"As you wish." He runs though a cascade of notes with a grand flourish, then bows slightly just to hear her huff of exasperated amusement. He settles into something more mellow, some jazzy tune he thinks he picked up in a Cairo nightclub. The vibrating knot of tension that is Olivia starts to unwind.

She doesn't speak again until her eyelids are starting to droop and the yawns have overtaken her will to fight them back. "I'd better go," she murmurs, making no move to get up.

"You all right to drive?"

"I'll be fine." Her grin is relaxed and despite the signs of sleep overtaking her, she looks better than she has all day. "Thank you."

"My pleasure," he says, and means it.

He stands to watch her go, then leans against the lab bench and stares blankly at the door long after she's likely made her way back home and hopefully cocooned herself into bed.

He can't be responsible for her. If he repeats it enough times, maybe he'll hammer that phrase into his thick skull and get out before it's too late.

But as long as he's here, he can't sit by and do nothing.


Concrit always welcome.