Warnings: Violence, prompt.

Spoilers: Through episode 2.4.

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

Author's Note: Written for Death Bingo on Dreamwidth, prompt: spontaneous combustion. This is set in the Choke Chain 'verse, an AU where Peter, Olivia and Nick all work for the ZFT. Takes place before "Slip off the Choke Chain" and after "Chain You Down".

Afternoon Hike

Everything would have gone smoothly if their first target hadn't managed to make a phone call to Marcia Nolan seconds before they'd taken care of him. By the time they got to the ass end of nowhere where she lived, she'd bolted.

"She yanked the hard drive before she took off," Nick said when he emerged from the house.

"Coffee's still warm," Olivia added, following a step behind him. "Can't have been that long."

"Car's still here." Peter banged on the hood, straightening from his slouch. "And no indications she keeps any other vehicles. She's on foot."

Nick studied the driveway, absently kicking a stone away as he stared at the drifts of leaves. "Unless somebody picked her up."

Peter shrugged. He hadn't noticed any sign of it, but tracking was hardly his forte. Maybe Nick would pick up on something he couldn't. "Then she signed that person's death warrant, too."

"Damn it." Olivia holstered her gun, ran fingers through her hair. Her irritation cascaded into Peter, making him edgy. "I hate New England. Everything always goes to hell when we have a job in New England." She closed her eyes and took a deep breath before she turned to look at him; he could feel the effort she was making to tamp down her emotions. "Peter? Anything?"

"Give me a sec." Peter propped himself against the car and closed his eyes, filtering out the familiar hum of Olivia and Nick's minds as he dropped into a half-trance and extended his senses to the farthest edges of his range. He scanned the area, detecting the barest trace of a frightened emotional signature somewhere to the east, the only other human being around for miles. "Somewhere over there, I think." He waved a hand in that direction. "She's not close."

When Peter opened his eyes Nick was staring dubiously in the direction indicated. "Those are woods, dude."

"Great powers of observation, Nick."

"You know anything about tracking people through forested areas?"

Peter smirked. "I thought they trained you guys for everything."

"Urban trained," Olivia said, words clipped. Her eyes narrowed as she stared at the forest that backed the isolated house. "The types of things we get sent out for generally need people around. Not many people in the deep forest."

Well. So there was something they couldn't do. He kept the amusement from his face, but from Olivia's glare didn't succeed in keeping it out of their link. "Walk in the woods won't hurt any of us."

Nick eyebrows went up. "Do you know how quickly the number of ticks with Lyme disease is growing? And mosquitoes with West Nile?"

"Doesn't matter." Olivia pulled a backpack out of the car they'd stolen just outside of Montpelier, sorted through the duffle and transferred items. "We need that drive, and we need her dead."

Nick took another long look into the forest before muttering, "This is one of the days I hate this job."

~***~

Three hours later the sun was hanging low in the sky, the fall afternoon had gone from pleasantly cool to downright chilly, and they were still hunting Nolan.

The forest went on for miles. The house was backed by a state park, according to Olivia, who as per usual had mapped every inch of the territory while planning the mission. And Nolan knew this forest, or at least knew more than a little about making time through forested terrain. Peter, Olivia, and Nick were getting closer, but only because their prey had bolted in terror and tired herself early. That was the only good thing about her being terrified; the downside was that no matter how many times Nick rode Peter's link to Nolan and tried to slow her down, to stop her, anything, he couldn't get a grasp on her mind.

"She's going on pure animal instinct. It's like raking my fingers through water," Nick complained after the fifth attempt, pushing off the tree he'd leaned against and stalking between Peter and Olivia to resume the chase once again. "Maybe if I got within reach."

"We get within reach, we can shoot her, slow her down that way." Peter considered the abrupt snap of Nick's steps and the way his hands were clenched against his sides. Probably shouldn't have baited him, not when Peter could feel Nick's frustration and growing anger.

Olivia watched Nick with worried eyes. "I'm not wasting bullets. We get within reach, I'm going to strangle her."

~***~

It was twilight before they caught up with their target, although under the trees it seemed even darker. Nolan turned just as they spotted her, prey sensing a predator had come within striking distance, and her eyes went wide. She bolted, weaving between trees, her harsh panting and the crunch of her feet on the leaves making her easy to follow. Olivia swept in from the left, Nick from the right, and Peter stayed right on her tail.

And suddenly Nolan was a pillar of flames lighting up the darkness.

Peter reared back at the blast of heat, yanking back the hand that he'd reached out to grab Nolan's shoulder. "Olivia—"

"I didn't do it! Swear to God." She circled the bonfire that their target had become, eyes narrowed as she studied the quickly diminishing flames.

Peter looked at Nick, who shrugged and said, "Well if she didn't do it—"

"I didn't!" Her brows dropped as she whirled, planting her hands on her hips and glaring at Nick, then Peter. "Which you both know damned well, because you could tell."

Peter nodded, reluctantly. She had a point. "There's no one else within miles of this place, unless something was left here that she ran into. Or she carried some sort of device with her?"

"Flames looked like they ate her from the inside out," Olivia said. "Whatever it was, it didn't come from an external source."

Peter raised an eyebrow. "Spontaneous human combustion? Seriously?"

"I suppose there are stranger things," Nick said, sounding more amused than surprised. He grabbed a stick and crouched to poke at the still-smoking remains. After a moment Peter joined him. The fire had mostly burned itself out, leaving glowing coals where once was living flesh.

"We're part of the stranger things." Olivia surveyed the wooded area, sighed. "They're going to blame us, anyway, no matter what we tell them."

Peter used his stick to pull Nolan's backpack from the top of the corpse, separating the charred and melted fabric until he found the hard drive. "Thing's somewhat intact."

Nick took the drive, grimacing at the heat as he turned it over in his hands and studied it with critical eyes. "Might be able to get something from that."

Olivia tilted her head thoughtfully, tapping her foot. "And we did need to kill her afterwards, anyway."

"All right." Peter sifted through possibilities, considering how to put together a story for the bosses. "We can spin it."

"Mission's not a total failure, then." Nick secured the drive in his pack and stood up to survey their surroundings. "Now how the fuck do we get back to the car?"

Peter met Olivia's eyes and both turned to look back the way they came. The only light came from the smoldering corpse behind them. Even with flashlights, there was no easy way to make the trek back before morning. While they could probably make it back in one piece, there was no reason to risk a broken neck now that Nolan was dead and the hard drive in their possession. From Nick's scowl and Olivia's exasperation, they had reached the same conclusion.

Peter sighed. It was going to be a long, cold night. "Well, kids, anyone bring any marshmallows?"