Spoilers: Through "Ability", episode 1.14
Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.
Author's Note: Thanks and love to Alamo Girl for both the beta and the constant support.
He's not her Peter.
He's the same in the generalities, but not in the specifics. She swears even his scent is different, but it's a criticism she dares not voice. Walter will talk about identical genetics leading to identical pheromone production and she doesn't need him to tell her she's crazy.
He's not her Peter, but sometimes he's so close she forgets herself for seconds—minutes—forgets that Peter died in her arms as blood pooled around them, and the one watching her from across the room is just an imposter dragged in from an alternate timeline by their latest bout of unexplainable phenomena. Her Peter never stared at her with that almost-hidden mix of haunted and hungry, like he wants to reach out and grab her but is afraid she'll disappear if he dares to touch.
This Peter doesn't touch her at all. None of the casual bumps, none of the comforting brushes. She wants to scream at the lack, even as she fears her reaction if he does brush fingers against her.
Will she be able to tell the difference?
Walter is Walter, it seems, no matter what dimension he's from, but she isn't his Olivia.
He knows this Olivia never learned not to trust him because she's skittish, not cold. Uncertain warmth underlies her mask of cool professionalism, and he wants to strip down those protective layers and bask in the heat underneath.
He never had the chance to fight his way back to the easy trust this Olivia and this Peter never lost. Everything had gone to hell too quickly. He'd destroyed her trust in him, so she'd refused to bring him along on her cases. Because he hadn't been there to watch her back, she died. His Olivia is gone forever, even while he drinks in every nuance of the gloriously alive one who darts wide-eyed glances at him and is almost willing to trust him.
He wishes this felt more like a second chance and less like purgatory dangling what he can never have in front of him for eternity.
This Olivia won't die. No matter what happens.
Of course they end up working together. Broyles isn't going to give up any edge in his war, and if that means using the Peter that's here to replace the Peter they lost, then so be it. Olivia never expected to have a choice in the matter, no matter how many objections she voiced. She voices them anyway, with an edge she's ashamed to admit increasingly borders on hysterical, and is treated to a hard stare and a flat ultimatum.
And of course this Peter doesn't just stay in the lab, but insists on tagging along. This may not be her Peter, but some traits are apparently universal. He doesn't give up, doesn't back down, and doesn't give a damn that she'd rather be working alone. She can't out-reason him and gives up on out-stubborning him as wasted time and energy after the first few attempts. She's stuck with him at her side, whether she wants him there or not.
And of course, to her dismay, they work well together, an unconscious give and take that's heartbreakingly familiar. From the very first, even when he still resented her for dragging him from Iraq, she and Peter had had a rhythm that took some partnerships years to develop. She's glad this Peter is so overprotective it makes her want to rip his lungs out on a weekly basis, or she might get used to having him by her side.
Or worse, forget he's not the one who belongs there.
She doesn't like that he's inserting himself into her investigations, likes even less that he's making damned sure she'll stay alive. They quarrel and she goes cold, but she hasn't lost her instinct to trust him, so he's not going to be put off by a few harsh words. If she really wanted him gone, he'd be gone; he has firsthand experience with Olivia's ability to cut him off if he's gone too far.
Tolerance settles into routine, wariness edges into uneasy friendship. He's careful not to push her too far and she rewards him by opening up an infinitesimal bit at a time. It's enough, this slow regaining of trust and acceptance. He can watch and wait, and hope he doesn't fuck this up again.
And every night she haunts his dreams, a beautiful, bloody specter reminding him about the price of failure.
It's inevitable, really, that they end up in bed; has been since the moment he was pulled through the rift. His embrace is as much torment as comfort; she can't welcome the similarities because the differences twist her gut. She reads the same in the hesitation of his touch, in the conflict in his eyes. There's enough of her Peter in him that she can interpret these signs, but not enough that she completely understands why.
And that's part of the problem. Her Peter she knew; this one she can only guess at, constantly wondering where he's the same and where he's not. Wondering how he diverged from the one she's familiar with, how those choices have shaped him into the man she's only starting to understand. Wondering if he regrets never sleeping with his Olivia as she regrets never taking that chance with her Peter.
She doesn't ask, doesn't know if she can deal with the answers he'll give.
He loves Olivia.
His traitorous, treacherous emotions betray him. He loves her, not as a replacement, but for her own self, her own history. That he has her, at least for now, makes him happier than he has any right to be. He can accept that she doesn't love him; that she wants him is more than he'd ever dared to hope.
She's his damnation and redemption, her every touch a vivid reminder of how much more he has to lose.
She doesn't notice when she stopped thinking of him as "this Peter", stopped qualifying him as "not hers". It's a Tuesday, a wretched day after a case going sour, when she finally realizes. Both she and he are snapping at any convenient target they can find, mostly each other. She spits out something, doesn't even remember what careless words she fires at him, but he goes pale and shuts down. Flat and unresponsive and she doesn't know what she could have said that cut him so deep. Hasn't figured him out enough to understand what trigger she just hit.
It's a punch to the stomach when he turns and walks out without another word. She doesn't want to lose him, doesn't want to drive him away. Not because he's a ghost of what she had, but because of who he is.
Losing him this time would hurt her even more than it did before.
Unmasked pain and fear war in her eyes as he walks away, but it's safer that he goes. She doesn't know how true her accusations were. His past associations had betrayed him, betrayed them, and he'd gone too far trying to cover his tracks. And he'd lost her, months before a bullet made the deal final. Maybe she wasn't this Olivia, but the differences are moot. If she finds out, he'll lose her again.
These half-truths he's been indulging in, these evasions about where their pasts don't mesh, burn like lies.
He doesn't stay away for long. Can't stay away for long, no matter how desperately he wants to. Her lights are still on when he knocks on her door in the early hours of the morning. She answers the door hollow-eyed and tousled-haired, and blinks at him for a moment before gesturing him inside. Relief, affection, maybe even the early glimmerings of love brighten the darkness in her eyes.
And he tells her. Everything.
The cataclysmic events that had been building eventually come to a head and they're at the epicenter of the chaos. He saves her from sacrificing herself and she binds him to this dimension rather than letting him be ripped back to his own; they both end up heralded as victorious heroes of a war they didn't choose. She doesn't know which side won, but they're alive and the world's still here, if a little worse for wear. By then, all she cares is that they survived; that the universe survived with them is just a useful bonus.
In the end, she has him and he has her. And it's enough.
Feedback is always welcome. Concrit is love.