She flicks open the chamber and peers along it, smelling gun oil and the hot after-smell of burned gunpowder. Snick, snick. Little metallic noises of finality as the pieces fit back together, a jigsaw puzzle whose solution deals death. She stacks the metal pills of bullets into the spring-loaded clip, pushes it home. Click. She gives the gun a final rub with the cleaning cloth and slides it back into the holster. The motion brings a faint curve of a smile to her mouth--it's a provocative move, sliding that long hard barrel into a soft leather sheath. She's not the first law enforcement officer to be a little too aware of that. She shrugs into the shoulder harness, pulls her coat on, and she's ready.

Right on time, she hears his car pulling to the curb out front. She has the door open before he knocks. He lifts an eyebrow, she lifts one in answer. Without speaking she pulls the door to, locks it, follows him down the walk to the car and they drive away into the night. Neither of them needs to speak.

There are too many long nights sitting in cold cars, sipping cold coffee and fighting to stay awake. And then the inevitable search for a place to pee, as the coffee has its usual effect. And the smell of stale cigarette smoke and cold French fries. She hates stakeouts. Even the ones with Peter, watching a row of dark warehouses where someone might be doing something unspeakable, unthinkable, something that keeps her awake too many nights.

At least Peter's a good stakeout partner. She glances over at him, and catches him glancing at her. She looks away quickly. His eyes are the color of sky seen through smoke, and he never seems to shave. Just as well, she thinks, because if he ever did he would look like a chubby teddy bear. He would look...cuddly. And that would be so wrong. Peter Bishop is anything but cuddly.

His hands rest on the steering wheel, although they've been parked for two hours. She sees the knuckles, the light hair dusting the backs of his hands. She knows the strength of those hands, those wrists. She remembers the tight grip of them more than once, in desperate situations, helping her, rescuing her. She knows about the long flow of muscle over bone in those arms, knows how the muscles slope over the shoulders and chest. She's seen him shirtless, once or twice. Inevitable, when they practically live in one another's pockets.

She hasn't seen him naked, but she can't stop thinking about it. How big...?

No. She shuts off that thought. Concentrate on the job. Focus on the warehouses, the shadows. Don't forget to check the roof line; think outside the box.

She wonders if he thinks about her naked. Probably. He's a man, and they think like that all the time. Doesn't mean anything.

On the dashboard between them, a single red LED winks to life. Peter picks up the little palm-sized sensor monitor.

"They've turned it on," he says, low and quiet. "Want to wait a few?"

She shakes her head. "No. The signal has never lasted more than a few seconds. We want to catch them with the machine still on."

He nods, reaches for the door handle, looks across at her. He opens his mouth and she can almost hear his thoughts: Stay here. Then he stops and she's glad he did, because she is almost tired of his protectiveness. She gets it, it's a guy thing, but still, she's a trained agent and doesn't need this. They get out of the car at the same time.

Cold. It bites into her because the breeze off the bay is like ice. What the hell was she thinking, to come out on a stakeout in Boston in the winter without thermal underwear? Actually, she thinks she knows the answer to that and it has a lot to do with Peter Bishop and things she really should not be thinking about. She pulls the gun from under her armpit and holds it pointing down in both hands.

He breaks left like they planned and she goes right, circling, staying in the shadows. She darts across the pavement, across the rusting railroad tracks, and hauls up against a corrugated tin wall of an adjoining shed. She barely catches the flick of Peter's jacket as he disappears into shadow across from her. She counts to ten in her head and then turns to the door, sliding the safety catch off the gun as she goes. He's right there, silent as thought, on the other side of the door. She sees the Sig Sauer in his hand and reminds herself not to mention it in the report because he's not supposed to have a gun on the scene, he's technically a civilian. But she knows he's a better shot than even Charlie Francis was, and it makes her feel a touch more secure.

Not that anything makes her feel safe these days. Especially not what's inside the warehouse.

He meets her eyes and they don't even have to nod. His hand finds the knob, turns it, finds it unlocked. He raises an eyebrow in surprise, the cold distant light of the security lamp catching his look. Then he is pushing the door in silently and going in ahead of her, which she has told him fifty times not to do and which he is ignoring for the fifty-first time.

The smell of hot metal, burnt insulation, and something else, something sweet and meaty, and her stomach does a slow roll. There are crates and boxes stacked just inside the door, a barrier to fool anyone who casually glances in into thinking this is a storage area. She knows better. Peter disappears into shadow on her left and she hugs the right side, silently walking down a narrow aisle made of crates.

A sizzling noise, and a whimper. Her stomach tightens.

She steps around the end of the aisle, gun out in front of her, two handed like they taught her long ago. There is not enough light to really see and she doesn't like that, doesn't know who is hiding in the shadows. Movement to her left--Peter emerges from another aisle, gun up. He meets her eyes, nods left. She nods agreement, they circle. She can hardly keep her eyes off the center of the cleared space, but scans the shadows anyway.

The thing in the middle of the room whimpers again, and the hair stands up on the back of her head. She doesn't want to look. She knows she will have to, but right now, she can do ordinary FBI things like look for perps in shadows. Stuff she can still talk about in break rooms and bull sessions. There are several aisles, dark and cold, and it takes her and Peter about twenty minutes to check them all.

At the end of it, they are on the far wall, looking at one another, questions in their eyes.

"Clear," he says in a low voice. "The back loading dock is chained from the inside. And we know they didn't go out the front."

They both know how the perps left the building, and it has nothing to do with doors.

She can't make herself put the gun away. Neither can he. They turn at the same time to look at the center. He's half a step behind her as she walks over.

It whimpers, and part of Olivia's mind reels because that can't really be called a mouth. There's a rippling motion where what looks like a liver is growing out of a hand with seven fingers, as if it's trying to reach for her. In the center of a normal looking chest, an eye opens and glances around.

Peter lifts the Sig, and she knows exactly what he's thinking. She would put a round through this suffering mass of former humanity herself, but where would she put it? The brain might be in the spine, the heart somewhere behind that skull.

She says, "They'll hear the shot." Peter looks at her, looks away, lowers the gun.

She puts the gun away, fumbles her cell out of her coat pocket. Peter turns away, looking at the machines ranged in a semicircle around the center of the warehouse. They are burned and blackened; smoke is coming from one of them.

She raises the cell to her ear. "Broyles."

"Standing by," comes his answer, strong and steady.

"They're gone, all except one. I think it may be Tennison, but I can't be sure. We'll need a DNA test."

"Copy that. Coming in."

"Back loading dock is secure. Come in through the front." In the background she hears an excited exclamation she knows is Walter. She closes the cell.

Peter meets her eyes. "Don't look." He's holding something sharp, and a surgical drape. She turns her head and hears the sound of metal arcing over flesh, hears the soft sound of cloth dropping. When she turns back, blood is seeping through the cloth but the shape under it is still and quiet, at peace. And she can say in her report that she did not see what happened. She appreciates his discretion.

Noises, the sound of unhurried, cautious men, and then Broyles is leading the rest of the team into the light. Eyes glance around in automatic assessment, see the shape on the floor, meet hers, look away. She knows what they think and she doesn't care. Suddenly she's tired, so tired. So many late nights, too many sights of the unspeakable, the unthinkable.

Technicians come in, medical techs who lift the sheet, then look away. Peter is standing next to her. She wonders if Walter is coming, then remembers that Broyles ordered him to stay in the car. She looks past Peter to the burned and half-melted machines. She meets his eyes.

"Do you think they succeeded?" he asks in a low voice. "You think they went through a portal?"

"I think they went ... somewhere."

They are both thinking about the thing on the floor. About what might have ... arrived ... in the somewhere the mad physicist from Germany and his friends went to.

Broyles is standing dark and tall and strong in the center of the room. He looks down unflinchingly at the covered object. Olivia wonders if he has seen anything like it before. She wonders what he will tell Nina, because she suspects he tells Nina Sharpe a lot. She can't ask him, though. He looks up, catches her eye, jerks his head. Go.

A touch. She looks down to find Peter's hand on her upper arm. "I'm getting out of here." He doesn't ask, it's not an invitation, just a statement, but she turns with him and then they are walking up a side aisle, leaving the light and the smells behind. When they step through into the night, she stops and leans against the wall of the warehouse, breathing deeply. It smells of dead fish and garbage, but it's a natural smell, a smell of this earth, not of the smoke and airless dust between the worlds. Not the smell of a human being turned inside out and put back together again by forces not of this world.

Peter waits for her, a solid presence in the night. He knows not to speak, not to ask her if she needs help, but he's there. He's always there. She closes her eyes and breathes, and in a moment she feels his hand brush hers. Quietly, she opens hers and feels his hand, warm and strong and dry, folding hers into his. He tugs, and she follows. It's two steps to the corner, two more around to the side where the rest of the FBI isn't watching, and then she's folded into him, sagging against him, letting go for a precious moment. His coat is rough against her cheek and smells of beer and laundry soap; she smiles. He cups one hand around her head, holding her against him, saying nothing. His quiet strength seeps into her, calming her, holding back the dark inside her.

Then she backs out of his arms and he lets go. She smiles into his eyes and he smiles back, and she walks away without a backward glance. She knows he will count to twenty before he follows, to avoid talk.

There are forms to fill out, papers to sign. Broyles questions her closely, his speech clipped and concise. Walter practically dances with impatience and Peter has to restrain his father until the techs have cleared the scene. When the van backs up to take the body to Walter's lab, Walter climbs in eagerly, talking all the time. Peter catches her eye, smiles briefly, and climbs in after him. The van rolls away.

"Go home, Agent Dunham," Broyles rumbles. "Get some sleep."

She nods, yawns, goes back to the car. She slides behind the wheel. She turns on the heater, finally (the idling motor would have given them away earlier). As the car heats up, it smells like Peter. She smiles as she drives away.

She's on automatic pilot, which is the only reason she can think of for ending up here instead of her apartment. She sits in the car, staring through the windshield at the house.

What the hell. She's too tired for this.

She climbs out of the car. She is not surprised to find the door unlocked--how typical of Walter. She leaves her shoes just inside the door, drops her coat in the hallway, and by the time she finds the bedroom she is half out of her clothes. She falls asleep before she can get all the way under the covers.

* * *

It's warm and heavy. When she opens her eyes, it's still dark, but it's a darkness tinged with gray so she knows dawn is near. She's on her side in a soft bed that smells like Peter, and a long bare arm is lying over her. That's what woke her, the warmth and weight.

She's aware that she's wearing a bra and panties and nothing else, but that's all right.

She can also sense that he's awake, lying behind her, breathing and saying nothing.

"I didn't think I could sleep," she whispers.

"Me neither," he whispers back. "Is that why you're here? To sleep?"

She turns slowly, and his arm stays where it was, so that she is in his embrace.

He's naked. She knew he would be. She knew this would happen, but it's all right. She meets his eyes. "Not just sleep," she says.

His eyes are still that smoky blue, the long lashes dark and full. Irrationally, she is annoyed that a man would have such spectacular lashes, it's unfair, but then he's bending down slowly and she's lifting her mouth to his.

It's soft, this first kiss--or is it the second? Whatever. His mouth is gentle, though she can feel the tension in him. He's as taut as a guitar string, but holding back. She thinks he's used to holding back a lot. She lets his mouth drift over hers, come back, sample the corner of her mouth, come back. He tastes of ... beef jerky? She smiles and feels his smile in his kiss, but he doesn't speak.

And really, what can they say, either of them? Either this works, or it does not, and talking wouldn't help any.

So when his lips drift back to the center of hers, she opens her mouth under his and he deepens the kiss. His tongue touches her, tentative and smooth. Then it's wet and hot and invading her, and his arm tightens and she thinks he's letting that rein slack a little, the tight rein he keeps on himself. His mouth melds to hers and he pulls her tight, and now she can feel the shape of him all down her front.

He's big, a good half a foot taller than her. His shoulders rise above her as he leans into her, looming over her. His skin is hot, and a little damp. He must have showered when he came home, she thinks, and then his mouth finds that spot under her ear and she stops thinking in words.

Hands glide down her shape, plucking at the waistband of her panties. She pushes them off without letting her lips leave that dip between his shoulder and his collar bone. He tastes like soap, a little. She slides a palm up and touches his cheek--it's smooth. So he does shave now and then, she thinks, and then his mouth is on hers again and her words go away again.

His fingers drift up and down her spine, lazily. They dance around her bra clasp, then release it, and his cheek brushes her shoulder on its way down her chest. He slides the bra off and now she is completely bare, completely naked with him in this darkness. It feels right.

He kisses his way down the slope of her left breast; when he comes to the nipple he licks it slowly, his fingers curling against her back. Her hands are at his waist, feeling taut muscle, feeling it slide and pulse under her fingers as he arcs gently against her. When he sucks her nipple gently into his mouth, she curves against him, breathing hard. His mouth leaves her breast to cover her mouth, and his fingers pinch her nipple gently, then harder, and she feels the surge of heat that flashes down her belly to her center. She wound moan, but he is fully occupying her mouth.

Her hand finds his cock, hard and throbbing, and strokes him. And for the first time, she hears his breath catch. She smiles. Strokes again, and he gasps and leaves her mouth and buries his face against her hair. The sound he makes is something like a moan and something like a gasp. His chest hair tickles her face; she turns her head to breathe and her ear is pressed to it. She can hear his heart and suddenly she is filled with tenderness, something not lustful but wistful, something deep and strong. Something about his heartbeat speaks more deeply to her than anything else about Peter Bishop.

She pushes against him, and he reluctantly lets go of her. She pushes harder and he rolls backward, his expression puzzled. It clears as she pushes herself up, kneels across him, straddling him. He smiles, his cheeks dimpling nicely. The growing light of dawn shows him off well--broad pectorals, a little plumper than a gym rat would have them, but definitely male and definitely strong. She sees the long muscles of his arms flex as he encircles her waist with his hands.

He opens his mouth, and suddenly it's important to her that he not speak. She puts a hand on his mouth and he looks startled, then his eyes half-close and he looks up at her with a lazy, sensual expression in those blue eyes. She smiles back, and moves a little, and his hips rise involuntarily to meet her. She shifts, seeking him, and he shifts, accommodating her. One hand leaves her waist to cup her left breast, and the other skims down, down, to her curls. It slides between them, finding her wet and open, and she throws her head back when he finds what he's looking for. She feels her hair fall down her back as his finger strokes her once, again, again. He squeezes her nipple again, and she shudders. She wants to close her eyes, it's so intense, but she makes herself open her eyes and look down.

His eyes meet hers, and everything stops. She's caught him unawares, his defenses are down, and it is all right there in his eyes. The reason he's here. The reason he stays, when he should have been, would have normally been long gone. She reads it, and her heart slows to an adagio.

This is not blow-off-steam sex. It's not a relief valve. It isn't even comfort sex.

She leans down slowly, and his fingers go slack. Her mouth covers his, their tongues meet, and then his hand is guiding him into her, slow and strong and sure. She rocks her hips backwards, and feels the stretch (yes, he is as big as she thought) and feels him filling her. She feels the tremor that goes through him, the last restraint breaking, and then his arms are around her, crushing her to him, and the sound coming out of him is something between a shout of joy and a moan.

Deep he surges into her, then again, then again. She laughs against his mouth, feeling all that male strength holding her, but then pushes herself up out of his arms. She rocks on him, triumphant, proud, feeling his thighs between hers and the bones of his hips hard against her. He holds her hips in his strong hands, his eyes on her, his mouth shaping her name silently. He lets her set the rhythm, lets her ride him. She shifts, adjusts, finds the right angle, the right touch. His right hand drifts between them and she feels his thumb, surprisingly delicate, just where it should be.

And there it is, that warm tidal wave, and the curling energy at the base of her spine. She sees him smile just before she has to shut her eyes and sway forward, again and again and again and oh god there it is. She is vaguely aware that she is making some sound, that his hands are on her breasts, he is whispering something delicious but mostly she feels that beautiful rising crest, that comes again and, when he shifts just right, again.

She is hot all over when she opens her eyes again, he is smiling, and then his face goes a little blank and his eyes are unfocused, and he surges upward like a fountain. He pumps fast and hard into her, pulsing, and then with a strong, athletic move gathers her to him, rolls them over until she is under him, covered as if with a living blanket, and he is gasping her name into her hair.

For a long time they lie like that, with him sprawled across her and her spread-eagled on the tangled bed, naked and sweaty and flushed together. She licks his neck and tastes sweat. His hands slowly drift up her sides, tangle in her hair, bring her mouth to his. His kiss is long, passionate, demanding, happy. He rolls off of her, gathers her to him, ignoring the sweat between them. His hands roam up and down, inside and out, exploring her, his smile sweet and happy, his eyes closed.

His heartbeat is under her cheak again. Strong, potent. His arms encircle her. He's got that protective thing going again, but she lets it ride. He needs someone to protect; no one has ever protected him. Not even Walter. She doesn't mind.

His hand strokes her hair, over and over, slowing as sleep creeps up on him. She's not sleepy, but she's contented and hot and--if she's honest--happy. She lies in his arms and watches dawn paint the opposite wall. For awhile, she doesn't have to think about the thing in the warehouse or the other things she has seen. She'll get up after awhile and make breakfast (astonishing and delighting Walter, no doubt), and eventually she and Peter will talk about this. Eventually.

For now, she lets him hold her and she is at peace.