Spoilers: Through "Inner Child", episode 1.15.
Disclaimer: I don't own Fringe or its characters.
Author's Note: I spent way too much time during "Inner Child" trying to figure out what the heck Peter was thinking. Here's one possibility. Thanks much to Alamo Girl for the beta.
Above and Beyond
She snaps at them when she picks them up, irritably lashing out at comments that usually elicit a flicker of amusement. He curbs his impulse to snap back and instead focuses on figuring out what the hell is up and why he's been elected target this morning.
"What's wrong?" The words comes out less patient than he intended, but he'll be damned if he cares when she started it.
She glances at him, her fingers tightening on the wheel. "I have another case. An old case just reopened, and..." She shakes her head. "And instead this. Which is my job. And Charlie will be fine."
His irritation unknots. It's never just a case with her. And her tone says the old case is laced with old guilt. "What case? What happened?"
"Did you hear of the Artist three years back?"
He hadn't been in Boston, but he'd kept tabs on the area and the spree made national headlines. "Serial killer?"
"Yeah. He's back."
Her stiff back and narrowed eyes say she intends to do something about it, no matter what other obligations get in her way.
He stays quiet and doesn't bait her, not with a case that has her wound up this tight. She doesn't need the additional aggravation and he doesn't need another unstable ego to soothe. Not until he figures out what he can do to help her.
Peter pays only enough attention to the conversation bouncing between Walter, Olivia, and Broyles to follow the gist, instead studying the evidence of the Artist's previous 'work', taking in all the details that were held from the press. No wonder Olivia vibrates with determination. She gets enough warning to know there's a terrified victim out there but not enough to save her before she's dead and displayed. It's the type of case Olivia is guaranteed to take personally, beating herself up because she's not quicker at putting the pieces together.
It's not a Pattern case. She only tapped Walter—and Peter by proxy as interpreter of the crazy—for help with the mystery of the kid, not with the so-called Artist.
The kid sidetracks her from the self castigation, pries the warm, affectionate Olivia out of the shell of the coolly professional Agent Dunham and gives her hope there might be a way to break the case. But the kid and that hope won't be enough distraction if the guy goes to ground again.
When the agent pops in to say another invitation has been issued, Olivia's eyes turn to steel and Peter braces himself for the day yet to come.
Sharp rapping wakes him from restless dreams. Olivia. Even if he didn't recognize that authoritative knock, only she would be at the door at—he glances at the clock as he pushes to his feet and tosses the blanket over the arm of the couch—2:43 in the morning. He opens the door wide in invitation and raises his eyebrows, running fingers through his hair as he blinks himself awake.
She brushes past him and plants herself in the middle of the room, one sweeping glance cataloguing the entire contents. Or, given the empty bed, lack thereof. "I need to talk to Walter."
Of course she does. He looks at the bathroom, light spilling out from under the door. Fifty-fifty Walter will be a pain in the ass. He turns back to her. She fidgets, guilt flickering along the edges of her resolve and shadowing her eyes.
Fuck. The second victim's been discovered.
He props himself against the wall and knocks on the door. "Walter. Olivia's here. She needs to talk to you."
If Olivia needs Walter's crackpot theories at three in the morning, Peter'll get them for her.
Cow blood and plastic polymers. That combination rings a bell, but he can't remember where.
Plastic he's encountered lots of places, but cows are rare. Gene's his first exposure to live cows—he never had the desire to be a cowboy, not in all the years of his wandering, nor any other profession that brought him near livestock—but blood doesn't suggest alive. A few forays in and around kitchens, but nothing plastic a victim might have touched. Dead cows. Carcasses hanging on hooks around him as he shivered in the frigid air and scoped out the parameters of the mob operation that used the meat packing plant as their front. Tennessee, two/three years ago. He'd been paid well to look the other way though the opportunity he'd been hoping for when he took the job hadn't panned out. But he remembers the rolls of plastic used to wrap cuts of meat destined for supermarkets and the bodies of those stupid enough to cross the vindictive little shit in control of the operation.
She doesn't ask any questions when he relays the carefully edited story—he's glad, because he hates to lie to her, and she would not be happy to hear the unvarnished truth on this one—but her eyes brighten with the fervor of a lead. She whirls off in pursuit, leaving him to help Walter with their only other avenue of investigation.
If the one doesn't pan out, he hopes the other does.
He doesn't watch as Olivia goes to the kid, but stares unseeing into the office.
Most importantly, he's emotionally bonded to you, Agent Dunham. He knows that the information is important to you. He's trying to help you.
The words echo. Walter's talking about the kid, but it resonates, familiar and uncertain.
The kid's not the only one that's been trying to help her. Why the kid's doing it is obvious, but why is Peter?
He cares for Walter, annoying though he is, but that's natural. Walter's his father, no matter how twisted their relationship is or how often he wants to deny it. Caring is the natural byproduct.
But Olivia? Although he elected to stay, he came because she dragged him here. By every right he should be pissed as hell but he's helping her at every turn. He's been going above and beyond his purported role in this crazy house to help her, has been since the beginning.
He cares about Olivia. Of course he cares. He likes Olivia, most of the time. Even considers her a friend. But how much does he care?
He doesn't know.
He keeps an eye on the kid while Olivia is off chasing the latest lead. If the drop in his body temperature was any indication, the kid's a perfect barometer of whether the operation is under control. Good to have, since the last time she went off on a nighttime jaunt with Charlie and the rest of the Feds at her back she ended up run off the road and kidnapped, and Peter didn't find out about it until the next morning.
When the kid jumps and his breath grows ragged, Peter's at his side. "She can take care of herself," he murmurs. "She'll be all right."
The kid's eyes are wide and worried, not buying it any more than Peter is. They're here, not there, and all they can do is wait and hope to God Olivia hasn't gotten in over her head. They watch each other three heartbeats, four, and the kid relaxes.
"See. I told you." He doesn't bother to hide his relief, and the kid smiles.
Olivia calls twenty minutes later with official word the case is closed and with rule-breaking marching orders for the kid. Peter revels in the sound of her voice. He doesn't ask for details and she doesn't offer them, but the Artist is dead and the coiled tension that has underlain her voice has eased. She marches in an hour later, bright eyed and resolute, rescue for the kid in tow. At the sight of her his chest tightens, his breath catches, and he knows. He'll do anything to help her, to keep that smile lighting her face.
He's gone beyond simple caring, fallen into something more dangerous, and he can't figure out if it's the best thing that's happened to him or the worst.
Or why it doesn't bother him nearly as much as it should.