Spoilers: Through 1.16 to be safe, though nothing specific.

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

Author's Note: I've been poking at this since late November, but it took me four and a half months to find the end, and two weeks to find the time for the final edits. As always, thanks to Alamo Girl for the beta on both early and later drafts.

Entangled Hearts

It's after eleven before he gets Walter settled and makes it to her apartment. He lets himself in and finds her sitting surrounded by an explosion of files, horrors reduced to impersonal black text intermingled with their grisly Kodak moment counterparts. Forty-one hours in, and she hasn't given herself a break since the phone call catapulted them awake.

He debates re-selling her on the benefits of sex as relaxation therapy. It's worked before, and she might bite again. The image of her stretched out on her bed, all gold and shadows in the light of the fire, grinning while he ran down a clinical evaluation of why regular sex was essential to her well being, is a cherished memory. What came after, even more so. That was early on, when he tried to fool himself into believing this could be a no-strings fling and wondered when she would come to her senses and pull the plug.

No, what she really needs is sleep, and he's willing to bet this time she's tired enough to drop off without any additional efforts to relax her.

He settles beside her on the couch and brushes her hair behind her ears. "Olivia, go to bed."

She leans into his touch but doesn't look up. "If I don't put this together there's going to be another one."

He ignores the obvious—that there's always going to be another one—because after two years tracking these incidents this is one of the few constants they've been able to find. Because he really doesn't want to get kicked out of her bed tonight, he doesn't bother with the trite observation that no matter how hard she tries they can't save everyone. Instead he hits her with blunt rationality.

"You've been going forward full-tilt for over forty hours straight, Olivia. Replacing your blood supply with caffeine only lasts so long." She glances at him, scowling, and he strokes her shoulder. "You're missing things. Give it six hours, let your brain take a rest." If he offers six hours, she'll give to five, and he can probably keep her down for seven and deal with Olivia being pissed all day tomorrow. She always works better with a good head of mad in her system, anyway.

She takes off her glasses and rubs her face, stifling a yawn. "Six hours." She's stopped trying to push through and pretend she's alert, and he's worried at exactly how exhausted she looks. How exhausted she must be, if she's giving in without a fight.

He jumps up and grabs her hands, pulling her up and into him. She drops her forehead to his collarbone; he enfolds her in his arms and kisses the top of her head. "We'll figure it out in the morning, 'Livia."

She sighs and nods. "Tomorrow," she murmurs into his chest, then pushes away and gives him a glare that's more than half amusement. "And no changing the alarm this time. Or turning it off. Or whatever other plan your devious mind is working on to make sure I get more sleep. Six hours and we're back on the case, or you're sleeping on the couch."

He can't help but grin. Half a year into intimacy and their relationship is still a negotiation, pushes and pulls and careful steps forward and back. He's memorized every inch of her body, but her mind skitters into sideways leaps that amuse and confound him. And she makes him feel like an idiot for underestimating her.

She continues giving him that look, but he just kisses her forehead. He doesn't make promises. By her crooked grin, she's caught that even through her haze of exhaustion.

They're both so careful with their promises, so determined not to break them.

He tugs at her waist, walking backwards as he leads her into the bedroom, then tumbles them sidewise onto the bed. Three minutes, and they're skin to skin beneath the covers. She curls into him, soft and warm and more fragile than a kickass FBI agent should ever let herself appear to be. He strokes her hair and watches over her until her breathing evens and she settles restlessly into sleep.

Holding her in his arms, letting the rhythm of her breathing lull him to sleep, feels more like commitment than any relationship he's ever known. Is more of a commitment than any relationship he's ever had.

He's never pointed out the benefits of emotional intimacy to both of their sanity, although he's considered the repercussions once or twice. By now, they're so entangled in each other he doubts either could escape unscathed. He's not sure which of them would bolt faster if the words were said out loud. One of these days, though, they'll have to face it. One of these days, when they can take a breather from the murder and mayhem, they'll inch their way towards how they've become wrapped around each other's hearts.

But not tonight, and not tomorrow. Tonight her world's the bloody wreck of the woman and twelve year old girl that are going to haunt her dreams, and tomorrow she's going to rip her heart out finding some way to bring them peace and making sure it can never happen again. The best he can hope to do is minimize the damage.

To both of them.

~***~

She frees herself from the stranglehold of the nightmare and smothers the shudders into some semblance of calm. It's one of the few times the nightmares have shaken her awake and Peter hasn't woken with her, and no wonder. Since this case hit he's been keeping up with her every step of the way.

She's cold, and drowsy enough that minutes pass before she realizes it's not all due to aftereffects of her dreams. Peter's stolen the blankets again, cocooned himself like he's never letting a whisper of cold air near him. He only does it when stressed or worried, an action that betrays him in sleep even when he doesn't while awake.

A glance at the clock tells her she's only two hours into the six she promised him. She considers going back to the files, leaving him in peace, but she selfishly needs these few hours curled up with him as much as she needs the sleep. Worming her way under the covers brings the expected grumbles, then the incoherent but happy mumbles as she settles herself in his arms. Thankfully, he doesn't wake.

He doesn't deserve any more sleep interrupted on her behalf.

Scattershot flashes from the nightmare force their way forward. Maria Benson and her daughter Beth, ripped apart from the inside out by forces yet unknown and people yet unblamed, plead to her for justice. But in these nightmarish mists she's nine and small for her age. The too-large gun held in shaking hands hurts her wrists as she keeps firing at the shadowy target that constantly slips away. And with every missed shot the blood of countless victims rises, until the flood engulfs her.

She huddles closer to Peter, willing the solid warmth of his body and the even thump of his heart to blunt the edges off the nightmare and ground her in a space outside her head.

It's more comforting to shake awake to his touch than to solitude. And that scares her. She's become dependent on him—too dependent. He's in her bed two nights out of three. The nights he's not she feels his absence with an intensity that borders on absurd. She shouldn't allow herself to need him so much her bed feels wrong when he's not here. He won't be here forever. Sooner or later something is going to break. Their precarious peace will come tumbling down and she'll be forced to crawl away from the wreckage alone.

After all, every other relationship she's been in has crashed and burned, even ones she thought she finally got right. She's always been braced for the inevitability of this one following the same path.

Now, as she's fitted against him, counting time to the even rise and fall of his chest, she's startled by how fiercely she doesn't want to let him go.

Selfishly, perhaps, she doesn't want to lose her calm spot in the chaotic insanity that has become their normal, but more than that, doesn't want to lose him. The thousand iterations of his smile, from sneakingly sweet to manic grin. His snide comments and his sidewise glances to see if he's amused her. His willingness to trust her to take care of herself when she runs into danger complementing and clashing with his need to protect her where he can. His maddening tendency to sidestep questions he's not ready to answer. His short temper when he's functioning on too short sleep and too little caffeine. His occasional bouts of stupidity that undermine his genius. She wants the entire package that makes up Peter Bishop, the good and the bad.

God, she even finds his blanket stealing adorable, in an "I'm going to thump you upside the head if you do it yet again" sort of way. And that clinches it. Entirely unexpectedly, she's gone and fallen for the man.

The man who, sight unseen but with uncanny accuracy, she'd dubbed "massive pain in the ass" and who, before his current stint as Pattern-wrangler for the DHS, hadn't held a job—or a relationship—for more than two months. Despite his being with her for six months without any indication that he's going anywhere, she's still afraid he'll decide he's had enough of the murder and mayhem, had enough of her, and move on.

He shifts in his sleep, arms tightening around her, and mumbles something she can't make out. She tries to relax but her fears have caught her by the throat and she can't shake free.

She knows she's worrying because it's two AM and there's a murderer still uncaught; she's been up over forty hours and didn't get a full night's sleep before running headlong into this case. Her defenses are nonexistent and every insecurity is blown out of proportion. But knowing doesn't stop the insidious voice that whispers he'll be gone before he even knows how much he means to her. Before she stops being afraid that saying the words out loud will mark the beginning of the end.

Her reluctance has nothing to do with secrecy. That they're together is only secret because they haven't announced it to the world. Broyles knows, although they never mentioned it. As long as they maintain their discretion and no aspect of the relationship interferes with their success rate at closing Pattern-related cases, he looks the other way. Charlie and Rachel she told outright when she upgraded whatever she and Peter have from short-term fling to relationship; neither betrayed any surprise. Walter and Astrid knew before it even properly started. They had front row seats from the all-unknowing first tentative steps in the courtship dance to the inevitable conclusion. In retrospect, she's surprised they hadn't dug out the popcorn.

In the early days she and Peter were so willfully oblivious to the obvious.

She lifts her head to watch his face, so peaceful in sleep. Not innocent, but at rest. His eyelids flutter, and his eyes snap open and find hers.

"Hey," he murmurs with a sleepy grin. He blinks his eyes into confused focus that shifts to concern. "What's wrong?"

How many times has he asked that, silently or out loud, even when no one else noticed anything? How many times has he watched patiently, waiting for the words he knows will come? How many confidences have they traded, shielded by darkness and safe in each other's arms? Too many. And not enough.

"I don't want you to leave." The words spill out before she even realizes she opened her mouth. "I don't... I want... I want this to last. All my relationships fall apart, but I don't want..." She trails off and drops her eyes to his chest, feeling silly and stupid under the intensity of his gaze. They didn't speak of such things. They never spoke of their future, and she feels like she broke some sort of unspoken trust by bringing it up now.

"Olivia?" He runs a finger along her jaw line, then gently tilts her head up until she meets his eyes. There's relief in his eyes and amusement in his voice. "I'm not going anywhere. Not unless you kick me to the curb, and even then you'd have a hell of a time prying me out of your life."

He doesn't question why, doesn't even seem fazed to wake to her out of the blue desperation. That's Peter. That's why she wants to keep him. She smiles, a soft glow of contentment relaxing through her. "I would, would I?"

"Yup," he says with a chuckle, and drops a swift kiss on her lips. "You're stuck with me."

"Okay," she breathes out in a sigh as tension unknots. "Okay."

"You're supposed to be asleep." He tugs lightly on a wayward lock of her hair. "And don't tell me you're awake so you might as well get up. Three more hours."

"I said I would, didn't I?" Exhaustion is dragging her down, folding over her now that her mind has stopped racing. She lets her eyes fall shut.

"Mmhmm." He tucks her more securely against him, anchoring the blankets around them both. "I'm here, 'Livia," he murmurs. "As long as you need me, I promise I'll be here."

"Always need you," she mumbles back as she drifts, the barriers between what she thinks and what she allows herself to say says crumbling as sleep claims her. "Love you."

His arms tighten around her as she slips into more pleasant dreams.

______________

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