Spoilers: Through episode 2.14, "Jacksonville".

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

Hanging in the Balance

When the truth comes out, old instincts take over and he bolts.

If Peter wanted to hide, he would have dumped his phone, ditched the car. Escaped to Iraq, Hong Kong, any one of a hundred exotic locations. He doesn't. Doesn't even think about it, really, just gets on the highway and drives. He's not even out of New England before he runs himself out and goes to ground in a bar more suited to flirting than brooding. The place may be more upscale than his mood requires, but it's the first bar he finds when he's done running, so there he stops and devotes himself to forgetting. No amount of alcohol in the world can cut through the cold that owes nothing to the temperature or the snowstorm that's moving in, but at least it cuts the pain.

Within the hour, puffy snowflakes lazily drifting to the ground give over to snow coming hard and fast, swirling on winds that whip it to blinding. He won't be going anywhere farther than the motel down the street, not until the system blows itself out. He can't bring himself to care. Getting stuck here is as good as anywhere.

When the door opens and snow blows in, framing and announcing a slender figure in black, he's lost count of how many drinks he's downed. Not nearly enough; he's made the mistake of pacing himself, so he's buzzed and not blitzed. He looks up long enough to confirm who it is, then bends his gaze back to the glass. Forcing his fingers not to tighten, he takes a sip and rolls the alcohol around on his tongue before letting it burn its way down to his stomach.

Olivia settles beside him, pulling off black gloves and shaking snow from the hair that hangs loose around her shoulders. She stares steadily at the mirror in front of her; he stares steadily at the glass in his hands. He tries not to wonder what she sees, if the damned glimmer shows up in the mirror. If she can see it out of the corner of her eye the way he can see her sitting so still out of the corner of his.

She doesn't fidget. Hell, he can barely even tell if she's breathing.

The bartender offers her a friendly smile. "What can I get you?"

Peter interrupts her refusal. "Whiskey for the lady," he says, and motions at his own glass for a refill.

A glance from the bartender and a nod from her; the whiskey is poured and they're left alone. She picks up the glass, swirls the liquid before taking a gulp. Her stillness broken, her fingers sweep restlessly along the rim as she cradles the glass in both hands.

"So." He downs his shot. The glass hits the bar with a thump. He's surprised to realize how much anger roils through him. He thought it had burned out somewhere between Boston and Connecticut, but it's back and aching in his chest. "Are you going to tell me why you didn't let me in on this little secret?"

She shrugs, barely a movement, and shakes her head. He looks up to find her watching him through the mirror, eyes wide and a little sad. He meets her mirrored gaze and she looks down, tapping against the glass.

"Well, then," he snarls, tossing a handful of bills down on the bar. He slips off the stool, shrugs into his coat as he stalks into the night, into the cold and the blowing snow. The wind cuts through him and the snow slides icy streaks against his skin, but he shoves his hands in his pockets and soldiers on.

A hand, whisper light, stops him. A first; as many times as he's touched her, she's never reached out to him. He wants to shake her off, to push her away, but he can't make himself do it. He turns, her hand staying steady on his arm.

"Why, Olivia?" he murmurs, dipping his head towards hers. Snowflakes whip through the foot of space between them. He doesn't take his hands out of his pockets, doesn't dare. Not because of the cold, but to stop himself from giving in to the impulse to brush the hair that keeps being picked up by the wind back behind her ear.

She stands straighter, staring at him unblinking. "Because I knew, I knew, this was how you were going to react. You had no reason to stick around once you found out what he'd done."

He steels himself against the bitterness in her voice and counters with plenty of his own. "You didn't think I might stick around for other reasons?"

There's no humor in her laugh. "Why would you?"

"Right." He smirks and shakes his head. "Why would I." He's tired suddenly, the weight of the years and the lies crashing down on him. His whole life is a lie, and he still hasn't figured out how to twist that one truth into something he can live with. "I've been working with you for over a year and a half, Olivia. Don't you think that maybe, somewhere in that time, I started sticking around for something other than my father and answers we'll never really get?"

She stares at him mutely, searching his eyes, and he has no clue what she can read on his face. Maybe everything. She knows him well, too well. All except for the important things, like why he would stay.

He wonders if she ever really trusted him. If, given the years of heartbreak and betrayal that forged her, she ever really could. He trusted her. He realizes that now, although he didn't before. That's why her silence hurt so damned much. Why, of all the people in his life, he couldn't believe she had kept the truth from him.

More fool him.

"Will you come back?" she asks, her voice small.

"I can't work with him. I won't work with him. Find the man another keeper; I'm done."

She swallows, nods, and her hand is gone from his arm. She backs up a step, memorizing his face with shadowed eyes, then pivots and heads towards the parking lot, chin down and hair whipping around her in the snow-laden wind. Just like that, she's letting go, without a single argument to convince him not to leave. After braving the snow to track him down, she's just walking away.

Or maybe, somewhere in that screwed up head of hers, she thinks she's setting him free.

"I'll work with you," he calls out.

She stops. Doesn't turn, doesn't speak, but her head tilts. Listening. Waiting.

He clears his throat. This is a bad idea, he knows it. She doesn't trust him, not really, and he doesn't trust her, not anymore. But that doesn't change anything. "You still need someone to watch your back."

Her head twists towards him. He can't see her eyes, but her stance is defensive and her words, when they finally come, are carefully neutral. "Broyles can assign me a partner."

"Some FBI hotshot who still half-believes the Pattern's bullshit?" he scoffs. "Yeah, that would work out well. Face it, Olivia, you need me."

"Not if you don't want to stay." She turns to look at him, and he can't tell if the wetness on her face is due to the snow or something more.

"I want—" He pauses, stopping himself from giving the flip and easy answer. Sucks icy air into his lungs and closes his eyes. He wants to go back to before. Before he learned the truth, before she did. Hell, sometimes he wants to go back to before he ever heard the name Olivia Dunham, back to when all that mattered was saving his own skin. He wishes it was easy to walk away, but he's changed too much to go back to what he was before.

He opens his eyes to watch her watching him. Studies the curve of her cheek, the stubborn set of her mouth, the wrinkles between her eyes. Maybe this will crash and burn like a hundred of his gambles before, but maybe it won't. Maybe they can work through this. Maybe, with time, the trust they'd assumed solid in more innocent days can be earned.

A thousand maybes, but no certain future.

"I want to give it a try." It's the best he can do, but it's not a promise to stay. She knows it as well as he, and her nod is cautious. Her shoulders relax, though, and the wrinkles between her eyes smooth.

"All right," she says.

She holds out her hand to shake on it. He hesitates, and resignation slumps her shoulders. He catches her hand before she can drop her arm, pressing cold skin against cold skin. She squeezes like she's afraid he's going to disappear. He holds on longer than necessary, long enough for her skin to feel warm against his, and curls his fingers against his palm when she slowly pulls away.

"Well." She shoves her hands into her pockets and rocks back on her heels, snow settling on her face as she looks up, sliding free as she glances at the street. She tilts her head towards the bar and clears her throat. "Buy you a drink? Since we aren't going anywhere tonight."

"I'd like that." And he's surprised to realize it's the truth. A flicker of a smile curves her mouth, and his own lips curve up in response. They stand there for a moment, staring at each other with ghosts of smiles.

Maybe this won't work out. But maybe, against all the odds, it will. He's risked everything on longer shots than this one.

When she turns and starts back inside, he falls into stride next to her, and they retreat into a warm haven against the storm.