Warnings: Brief mention of case-related bloodshed and abuse.

Spoilers: Through "Ability", episode 1.14

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

Author's Note: Thanks much to Alamo Girl for the beta.

Impulse

The day fades into darkness and shadows edge through the corners of her apartment, held at bay by the one lamp Olivia had bothered to turn on. She curls into her armchair and sips her whiskey, watching Peter sprawl on her couch and brood over his own glass.

"Some days, this job sucks," she murmurs.

His eyes flick up and he raises his glass in agreement. "Hear, hear," he mutters, and then takes a long swig.

She sighs and tries to forget blood arcing to spray white walls, the kickback of her gun. "We did what we had to do."

His eyes hold hers, probing. "Which of us are you trying to convince?"

After a moment, she shrugs and drops her eyes to watch the play of light through the aged amber of her drink.

Olivia should have seen that pain had swamped Amanda's reason and spiraled her into madness. Should have put the pieces together earlier, when the only dead were bastards who deserved worse, before the girl rationalized collateral damages were justified and anyone who stood in her way was fair game.

If Olivia had been quicker, maybe it wouldn't have taken a bullet to stop the madness.

Peter's still staring at her, brows drawn together, and she finally gives in and voices her guilt. "I should have figured it out sooner."

She can see the sarcastic bite of denial forming behind his eyes, but instead he says, gently, "You didn't have all the pieces, Olivia. Even you can't stitch together a case from a few threads."

Damn, but she must be an utter failure at hiding how deeply she blames herself if he's handling her so delicately. It's a measure of how miserable she feels that she can't even muster up a decent amount of irritation but is instead vaguely comforted that he'd make the effort.

Not that she deserves it.

"When I interviewed her, I should have seen it. I knew there was something off in her reactions, but I didn't put it together. Not until..." She shudders and takes a gulp to ward off the chill. Her gut churns as she remembers the wreckage of victims that had surrounded Amanda, remembers the betrayal in the girl's eyes when the bullet hit.

He lightly touches her wrist; the warmth of his fingers against her skin shakes her free of the memories. Eyes intent on her, he says, fiercely, "Blame ZFT for giving a traumatized young woman flesh-rending powers then setting her loose to wreck hell on her abusers, and blame those assholes for brutalizing her in the first place. Don't blame yourself; you did everything you could."

She almost believes him, should believe him, because he doesn't lie to her about things like this. His concern and steadfast logic blunt the sharp edges of her guilt, but don't shake it free.

In a few days she'll force herself to accept his words as truth, but right now she's too close. As much as she trusts Peter, she can't help but wonder if the case could have played out any differently. "Some days, this job sucks," she repeats, and reaches for the bottle to tip more whiskey into her glass.

Although Peter nods he continues to watch her, and she musters up a smile to reassure him. By his raised eyebrow, he doesn't believe it any more than she, but doesn't push the issue further.

She's glad he's with her, that she's not sitting here drinking through her post-case misery alone.

She doesn't remember when sharing a drink with Peter over the ashes of a case settled into ritual, but it's been their tradition for the better part of a year. The successes are fun; he'll cajole her into a few drinks at a bar downtown and they'll ride the high into outrageous stories and meaningless flirting, pretending to be normal people for a few hours. After the failures, he tracks her down to wherever she's holed up and refuses to let her brood alone. When he shows up, bottle of something high-proof and expensive in hand, she doesn't bother with the pretense of protest anymore, just lets him in and grabs the glasses. She's come to depend on their ritual to get through the aftermath of cases like this one.

Hell, she might as well admit it; she's come to depend on him. He's a large part of the reason she stayed sane when every bit of solid footing was ripped out from under her, and she can't imagine doing this job without him at her side. They may have started as uneasy allies, but time has forged them into partners. An unorthodox partnership, one uniquely suited to running down the twists and turns of the world they've slowly uncovered. Odd to think that she once had to blackmail him into compliance when he's now one of the few friends she knows will have her back no matter how fucked up the world gets.

He's a friend, arguably her best friend.

She wonders, sometimes, if that's all there will ever be between them. All too often in the last few months, she corrects herself, fiddling with her glass as wry amusement edges against her bleak mood. Sometimes in the depths of his eyes, in the tone of his voice, in the occasional lingering touch, she thinks there's a flicker of something warmer than friendship, but it may be her own growing attraction coloring her perceptions.

On the good days, the ones where everything goes well, she can keep the banter light and superficial, sidestep his probing questions and concerned stares. On the bad—and tonight is the epitome of bad—she remembers why she long ago concluded he was very, very dangerous. He slips by her defenses and reminds her that under the sarcasm and evasions is a person she's come to care for very much. Too much.

Nights like tonight, when she's raw and hurting and he's wormed his way behind her defenses to ease the burden of her failures, she wants to toss caution away and find out if there might be a chance at something more between them than friendship. If she might ever be allowed the comfort of burrowing into his arms and losing herself in his touch.

And she should so not be thinking about Peter that way. Not that she's afraid of this being a retread of the last time; he's not John and she's not the Olivia who went down that path before. No, she's afraid of losing what she has now on the uncertain chance of something new.

She needs some small bit of certainty in this increasingly chaotic world.

She uncurls from her chair with a sigh and leans forward, placing her glass on the coffee table and glancing sideways at Peter. He's propped on the arm of the couch, expression masked by the studied affability of the poker face he drops into when he's thinking something he doesn't want her to know. Since he's gone back to staring at his glass she allows herself a quick appreciative sweep starting at his head and down his lean torso, long legs, and back up to his face. He's easy on the eyes. Sexy. Not that that's a word she'll let within a whisper of her official description, but definitely sexy. Funny, smart, charming, and a host of other words that she really should not use to describe Peter if she's going to deny she's falling for him.

She wants to see what would happen if she kissed him, and despite a thousand reasons why this is a terrible idea, she can't find one that means a damn right now.

Taking that chance would be a mistake, one rooted in her guilt and misery, in her overwhelming need to find something, anything, to distract her from the crushing weight of her failure. She could crash and burn; at least that would be a distraction. At best, things would be awkward for a while, then shift back to normal. At worst, she could destroy everything they've built for a fleeting bit of comfort.

All she knows is that resisting the impulse is too much effort. Consequences can be untangled later.

She shifts towards him to touch her lips to his in a soft, slow taste of a kiss. She can feel his momentary shock before he responds with a cautious exploration that lights her nerve endings on fire and wakes her to the reality of exactly what she's doing.

A breathy snort of laughter escapes as she reluctantly breaks the kiss and shakes her head, unable to meet his eyes. Damn. Now it's time to be worried. Terrified, even. She seriously considers if the safest option is a headlong bolt in the opposite direction before she gets any deeper.

Getting drunk sounds better and better.

He catches her hand on the way to the glass and pulls, not hard, but a steady tug that allows her plenty of opportunity to resist. His expression is a raw display of every flicker of interest she ever thought she'd seen magnified a thousand-fold, and her breath catches in her throat.

Maybe it wasn't a mistake.

She allows herself to be drawn to the couch beside him. His other hand cradles the back of her head and he slants his lips against hers, first in gentle question then more deeply when she relaxes against him and threads her fingers though his hair. She can feel that genius-level intellect focus on her, cataloging and interpreting her every reaction, constantly shifting his approach in response, until she's lost in a whirlwind of sensations. When they come up for air her world is spinning and her breath ragged.

He rubs circles against the back of her neck as he studies her with passion-darkened eyes. "You're not drunk."

He doesn't phrase that as a question—he knows exactly how many glasses she's had, and how many to take her from sober to tipsy to under the table—but she shakes her head anyway. She feels drunk. The weight of her guilt is still there, but is buffered by that relaxed and giddy freedom of a few too many with no care as to the price she'll pay in the morning.

"Good," he says and kisses her again, this time hard and demanding, leading her in an assured dance of lips and tongue and teeth that obliterates thought of anything but him.

She doesn't remember when in the heat of that kiss she straddled his lap, but she's pressed close enough that she can feel his heart pounding against hers. His eyes are glazed and unfocused as he tries to catch his breath and she can't help but grin. He smirks in return, then his expression turns serious.

He tucks her hair behind her ear and traces her cheekbone with the side of his thumb. "So what is this? Just an aberration? A... a meaningless interlude? What, Olivia?" The breath of his words puffs against her face.

For a moment she's insulted. He should know better, should know her better. Except she understands his caution, his continual need to analyze and interpret and understand, and she can't blame him for hesitating in the face of her sudden redefinition of their partnership. But he's not just a distraction, not a way to make herself feel better until her guilt is easier to bear. He means so much more.

She meets his eyes squarely and says, "For that, I'd choose someone less complicated."

"Complicated?" He murmurs the word as if trying out the taste of it, eyes narrowed in speculation. "And you're willing to chance complicated?" One of his hands rubs lazy trails up and down her spine while the other rests warm on her hip, and she has no doubt he's catching the slightest flicker of her expressions while he waits for her to answer.

She brushes fingers along the rough stubble of his jaw as she takes one last chance to rethink what she's getting herself into. She's navigated the hazards of a workplace romance before, but she won't fool herself into thinking that experience will make this one any easier. The possibilities of the normal ups and downs of any relationship carrying over into the job should be enough to warn her away. And friendship, which they might be able to salvage if this goes no farther, could become a casualty if their relationship sours further down the line. But she can't ignore that sitting here, straddling him, doesn't feel strange or awkward, but right. Like something she should have done a long time ago.

She's always trusted her instincts, and her instincts are telling her she's an idiot if she doesn't reach for what's being offered. No matter what pushed her into finally making the first move, she wouldn't have kissed him if she hadn't been ready to handle what might happen next. If she'd wanted to run, she would have done so when she had a chance at getting away.

Maybe change is not only inevitable, but necessary.

She cups her hands around his face and nods solemnly. "Yeah, I am."

His breath rushes out and he closes his eyes for a moment. "Thank God." His sudden, boyish grin is mischievous. "I was afraid you'd go all stubborn and I'd have to convince you."

She leans forwards and whispers in his ear, "You could convince me anyway. Just in case."

She can hear his laughter, feel his breath hot against her ear, as he murmurs back, "Count on it."

Ever the gentleman, Peter keeps his promises.

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