Green Eyed Monster

The Chink in Her Armor

AFTER Rachel had taken sulking Ella home, knowing fully well that they were supposed to leave her sister and her team to their newly surfaced case, Astrid quickly cleaned out the celebration table laden with food and drinks and went over to stand by Peter and Olivia.

Walter was excitedly rummaging through an old cardboard box where he had previously placed the instruments he would normally take out to the crime scene, but which now lay forgotten because he didn't have to use them in the last two weeks.

-Oh, to be out and about again! To feel the thrill of the discovering the unknown… Putting pieces of the puzzle together…-Walter was happily chirping to himself. The initial melancholy that kicked in when he realized that his carefully planned party suddenly had to be canceled was already gone.

Peter couldn't agree more with his father, although he said nothing. He was looking forward to being useful again, to contributing to something, instead of simply lying around and staring at the ceiling.

-So what do we have?-he inquired, looking expectantly at Olivia.

She was now in a full special agent mode and looked stern and resolute. Her tone of voice was formal as she started the quick debriefing.

-Four bodies were found in a car wreck near the Big Dig Boston highway, mauled up to the point of irrecognition. We are to leave immediately; Broyles will give us the location on the way there.

-What could possibly interest us in such a case? They were probably attacked by a stray, large animal-Peter pondered out loud skeptically.

-I don't know, but if I had to guess, I would say that, maybe, the police still have doubts about the cause of death. Perhaps they can't fully determine which animal was responsible for the mortal wounds of these people and that's where the Fringe division jumps in.

-If the type of the animal is inconclusive-Walter declared, raising his forefinger into the air… That could mean several things. The animal is an artificial creation, a new species unknown to us up till now; genetic hybrid; or it is not an animal at all.

-Genetic hybrid…-Peter chuckled. –Really, Walter?

-Well… We have seen stranger things before-Olivia stated and Peter had to agree with that assessment, remembering a magical old-man baby, John Scott's translucent body and a murderous computer program.

-OK. I suppose you've got a point. Anyway, we'll see that we're dealing with when we get there, so we'd better get a move on-he nodded vigorously and headed for the lab door.

-You're not going-Olivia's soft voice made him stop in his tracks and he spun around, walked up to her and pierced her with a furious gaze.

-The hell I'm not.

-You have just been released from the hospital, you are not fully recovered and your appearance on the crime scene might jeopardize the mission.

-I'm fine-he retorted coldly, without removing his darkened gaze from her face.

-We'll need you back here. After Walter examines the bodies, he will probably choose one of them to be transported to the Harvard basement so that you can start inspecting it further, in order to determine a cause of death. Meanwhile, you and Astrid stay in the lab and prepare all the necessary instruments for the body dissection.

-You need me at the crime scene to look after Walter, to focus him.

-Don't worry, I've got Walter.

-Now, the problem about that sentence is that when you say that you've got Walter, what you are actually saying is that there is a huge burden on your back that you have to carry around all morning. Believe me. Been there, done that. Besides, I can handle him perfectly well. I want to be of the assistance. I am the member of this division as much as the rest of you.

She avoided eye contact with Peter, knowing it'll only be harder to persist in her intention. After having seen how much weight he had lost and after registering the notable pallor on his smirky face, the fear nested in her chest and Olivia didn't want him on the case just yet. At least not out in the open, where the real danger lay. She was concerned for him and even though Broyles had told her to bring both Bishop boys, ever since she answered her boss's phone call Olivia knew what her choice was going to be, even though that might mean defying the order of the chief of the Office of the Homeland Security.

As if he could read her mind, Peter anxiously inquired:

-Does Broyles know about this? What does he have to say to the decision you have made?

-Peter, I don't want to discuss that right now. We are in a hurry. My decision is final. I am the head of the Fringe division, whether you like it or not.

His annoyed expression changed into the pleading one and he pulled her away from Walter and Astrid, grabbing her just above the elbow and whispering earnestly, while the sheer worry was mirrored in his gaze:

-Olivia…-his hot breath tickled her ear and she shivered unwillingly. –We don't know what is out there. What we are dealing with. As much as I tend to disagree with Walter, now even I am starting to think that this time he might be right. That patchwork monster thingy could tear you both apart. Heck, it may still be lurking around, waiting for a new prey to pounce on. So… The more the merrier-Peter was concerned for both her and his father and he couldn't hide it, he needed to be there with them, for them.

-No-she shook her head finally, decisively. –Besides, you would be completely useless. I am the one with the gun, remember?-Olivia attempted a feeble joke.

-Fuck- Peter said, releasing her arm. He gave her a last, ominous stare, slammed his fist on the nearest table and went to the lab's back room continuing to swear disappointedly, uttering obscenities loudly.

Olivia's heart clenched at his anger but she didn't care. As long as it kept him safe.

He can come with us on our next case. Right now… It's best for him to stay here with Astrid.

-Walter, let's go-she motioned towards the old scientist.

-Go? Where?-Walter replied, puzzled.

Olivia rolled her eyes. This was going to be a long day.

HOWEVER, after having spent an hour with Walter at the crime scene, Olivia discovered that she actually couldn't complain at all. He was remarkably lucid, and in an incredibly good mood, which Olivia ascribed to Peter's release from the hospital. Even though his humming and his incessant moaning for red vines and mints unnerved her, she had to admit he was like a big intelligent child. When Walter was working, he was at his best. The police confirmed that the four victims were all attending MIT; such conclusion was based on the students' cards they found in the wallets of the deceased. Walter examined the bodies, marveling at the different types of wounds he was able to discover on them.

-These people look as if they were thrown into three animal cages in the zoo. There are claw slashes, fang bites… On this one… Look, agent Dunham!

Olivia wrinkled her nose in disgust but chose to approach anyway.

-There is even a deep stinger mark… I believe we have a winner!-he rubbed his hands contently. –Would you please have this body transported to my laboratory? It is the only one with all three different kinds of wounds… I wish to determine which animals attacked these youngsters, because it was obvious there were many of them, at the same time. However, the three particular animals I suspect of, being a tiger, a giant snake, possibly python, and a huge scorpion do not work well in unison. It would be completely unnatural for them to get together and somehow exact their revenge on human kind. Therefore I must return to my previous hypothesis which I have already exposed back at the lab. We are talking about an animal that has all the characteristics of the three fauna specimens I've just numbered. It is probably an artificially created genetic hybrid.

-So you're saying that someone somehow… Made this monster?-Olivia inquired tenaciously.

-That is correct, agent Dunham. The monster was created in a laboratory, and in a nearby one, if I may suggest…

-I'll call Astrid to do a cross reference on all the laboratories which are located next to the Big Dig Boston highway, which may help us to lower the criteria for the further investigation. What do you think, where is the monster now? Can you give me some insight on that?

-I cannot tell for sure, Mrs. Dunham. Since it was recently released from the place which inhabited, it probably hasn't gone far. It's quite likely that it is still in the woods. The natural instinct of all animals tells them to firstly lay low and inspect their environment, without straying too far from their initial habitat. Afterwards, prey animals usually take cover, preferably in a dark place and wait for the unaware victims to stumble into the trap they set for them…

-Thank you Walter, you have been most helpful. Let me take you back to the laboratory so you, Peter and Astrid can start examining the wounds on the body and hopefully tell us even more about the "monster".-Olivia flashed a wide smile and patted him on the back. -I'll tell the team to cautiously start combing the woods and the nearby clearings.

THAT afternoon was eventful for Olivia. Astrid discovered there was actually only one laboratory near the location where the students had lost their lives, and that really narrowed down the search. Nevertheless, she was extremely angry when the lab owner practically refused to collaborate. Olivia could feel that there was something fishy about that guy but she had no idea how to get him to talk. It was a dead end, at the moment, and she hated when that would happen.

It reminded her of the Claire Williams case, where Estherbrook was openly mocking and even threatening her when she tried to find out where the girl was being held. Feeling impotent, she decided to talk to the fellow students of the deceased young people, hoping she'd somehow stumble upon a clue.

The useful piece of information she uncovered, that one of the students was the son of the lab owner and a member of an animal activist group "Animals First" served her well. She managed to pry out the information about the exact combination of animals that formed part of the genetic hybrid.

Olivia returned to the lab in the late afternoon, extremely pleased with herself. She was secretly hoping the beast wouldn't attack anyone else before they caught it. Also, she was wondering how Peter was and if he still was angry with her. Olivia understood perfectly that he wanted to be where the action was; because that was one thing they actually had in common.

Apart from that, and completely unrelated to the case, there were the thoughts of Peter calling Rachel ten times in a row on her cell, couple of days ago… Olivia tried hard not to ponder on that… Instead, she imagined how happy Walter would be when she brought him back the information he needed.

Although, who knows, maybe he has already figured it out himself.

When Olivia entered the lab, Walter, Peter and Astrid were standing around the young man's corpse. Peter didn't even bother to look at her. He was fumbling around with vials and epruvettes, turning his back to Olivia on purpose.

She stiffened, deciding to ignore him as well. How stubborn can he get? All I did was care for his well-being.

Fine. If that's how you wanna play.

-How's it going, Walter?

-Agent Dunham! I am so very glad to see you! Now, I must disappoint you. We haven't made a complete breakthrough yet. Although, apart from the initial three animals, which were, as you recall, a tiger, a snake and a scorpion, we have uncovered another one which fits the bill: a spider!

-A spider?

-Yes, yes… Peter and I have even drawn a preliminary sketch of how the monster might look like! Boy, bring it over here and explain my theory to agent Dunham.

Peter came closer to both of them, with a guarded, cold expression on his face. His eyes were focused solely on the parchment and his voice was leveled, bearing a scientific note. For some reason, Olivia couldn't completely concentrate on what he was saying and during a minute or so she simply reveled in the huskiness of Peter's intelligent tone.

-The monster, in a way, resembles a chimera, a fiend from Greek myths. It probably has the size, the strength and the body shape of the mature tiger. It might not have the tiger's hide, though, since we didn't find any fur on the victim. So the monster could have the scales of the snake, or the hard shell of a scorpion. We believe the latter is the case, given that its creator probably wanted to make it more resilient to the attacks.

Judging by the slashing wounds we discovered on the cadaver, Walter and I assume that this hybrid animal is equipped with claws, which are on its front, not on its hind paws.

However, the bites correspond to the snake fangs, only they are deeper. So we have to suppose that the monster has pointy teeth on both sides of its jaw, something like a sabretooth tiger.

The strangest thing is, apparently, when it bites its prey, it's not the snake venom that comes out of the fangs, but the less harmful, spider venom, which serves to incapacitate the victim and prevent it from struggling. We still haven't been fully able to determine how this venom incapacitates the victim. Maybe it slowly kills the prey, maybe it only paralyzes it… That's one of the things we're still analyzing. The scorpion stinger is also a dead end. We know that it exists. We don't know on which part of the creature is it located. It could be on its abdomen, but a monster might as well have a large scorpion tail. It's still unclear.

The attack pattern would be as follows: the creature pounces on the victim's chest, slashes it with its claws while simultaneously introducing the venom. Then it either devours the person or it simply kills him/her because it feels threatened. I don't know what the stinger does yet and neither does Walter. For now, it's safe to assume that it incapacitates the victim just as the venom does but… Maybe there's more to it-he finished his tirade rubbing his forehead tiredly, looking pointedly somewhere behind Olivia's shoulder.

-Well I found out that one of the victims was the son of the laboratory owner. He admitted having created a hybrid and he agreed to give me the list of animals whose DNA he used-Olivia was talking to Walter and to Walter only as if Peter wasn't there. –You are right about the animals. There is, however, one last, fifth animal, Desmodus Rotundus, which is…

-A bat-Walter and Peter exclaimed in unison.

-Yes.

-That only contributes to our theory that the animal would stick to the dark places, such as caves or underground passages. It probably has an acute sense of hearing as well. Also, the animal's immune system would make it a perfect candidate for genetic hybridization. The bat was the missing link.

-That is all very useful information. I'll call Broyles; tell him to send a bigger search team to the area that surrounds the woods next to the highway and to focus on the caves, underground passages and such. Right now, there's only Charlie and couple of more men. I think we're going to need more special agents on this. Good job, all of you. We uncovered a lot about the monster in the matter of hours. I am very pleased.

-Seeing how Walter probably created a very similar mutant monstrosity about twenty years ago, the fact that we have done a good job today shouldn't surprise you. His scientific curiosity has always been more important to him than other people getting hurt-Peter stated furiously, scrutinizing his father's face angrily for several moments and then he went to the office.

-I can't think straight anymore. I'm gonna get some caffeine into my system-Peter said as he was leaving the lab space.

-What?-Olivia inquired incredulously, turning towards the mad scientist, not being able to process what she had just found out.

Walter looked ashamed.

-Forgive my son, he's been in a mood all day… Ever since you prohibited him to come with us to the crime scene…

-Walter… Is that true? That you made this hybrid… Before?

-No, not the same one. It would have never occurred to me to include the bat into the combination. That was a brilliant idea-Walter began babbling, carried away; however, seeing the expression on Olivia's face, he rapidly corrected himself. –But… I daresay that my work might have been the basis, it was used as starting point for this creature in particular. That is not something I am proud of-he hung his head. –I will help you in any way I can. My son is angry with me at the moment. We had a discussion just before you came in. He… He told me I was reckless, that I behaved as if I didn't live in the society with other people-Walter stated sheepishly. –So his today's behavior is partially caused by what he had found out about my previous experiments, and partially by your prohibition. Also, I guess he has a short fuse. He inherited that from me-concluded Walter sadly.

-Don't worry, Walter. The fact that you made a similar creation two decades ago doesn't actually make you responsible for this one; you never wanted this to happen-Olivia could see how repentant he was, and she made intent to console him. She knew fully well how dysfunctional Walter could be when things weren't going right between him and Peter.

And to think that day started out nicely.

She phoned Broyles, informing him on the progress they had made and asking for more patrols in the area. Her boss congratulated her on the job well done, adding that he would keep informing her if there were some monster sightings or new attacks.

Then she headed to the office to get a cup of coffee as well and to talk to Peter.

He was sitting on a chair, with a coffee mug in his left hand, sipping it absently and massaging his temple with the right hand. He looked nervous and tired and Olivia approached him cautiously.

-Is there some coffee left for me?

He raised his head and his features softened as he took in her kind rounded face. She also flashed a friendly "I come in peace" smile.

-Yeah, it's right there in the pot. I've just made it.

-Great, I could really use some as well.

She poured herself a cup and then sat opposite Peter, studying him.

-Are you OK? You, Walter and Astrid did an incredible job this afternoon.

Peter didn't want to argue with Olivia again. Especially not now, when she was so kind to him. He understood the reasons for which she had left him behind. As soon as she and Walter were gone, he felt bad for grabbing her arm like he did and for swearing in front of her. My emotions really get better of me. However, I really hope she doesn't exclude me from yet another field trip. I couldn't bear that.

-Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just a little tired and grossed out. We've been dissecting the poor guy for almost two hours. Still haven't gotten used to the smell of rotten meat. Though, come to think of it, I should have, seeing that the hospital meat they used to bring us at lunchtime smelled pretty much the same.

-Ugh-she almost spilled the coffee she was holding and Peter chuckled.

-That's what I said. It kills the appetite.

-Listen… About Walter.

-Don't you start me on him-he growled. –Have you noticed that somehow, and I wouldn't really call it pure coincidence, almost each weird case we stumble upon can be traced back to Walter. It makes me wonder what kind of person he really was.

-Peter…-Olivia placed her hand on his, feeling his tension and suddenly wishing nothing else but to comfort him. –Walter is not that man anymore. And he is really trying to be a good father to you now... That you live together again. He deeply cares about you and he loves you very much. Rachel told me that he… Concocted some weird ointment in order to help you get out of the hospital sooner.

-Yes. Yes, he did, I guess-he sighed and pulled his hand from under Olivia's, only to put it on top of hers, clasping her tiny fingers and caressing them absentmindedly. Her gentle reasoning was already making him feel better and he was so thankful for her presence.

These are the things for which I love her. She always picks me up when I fall. She stitches me together when I come undone.

Olivia gulped at this intimate display of affection they have actually never shared before. She was unsure of what she should do, whether she should remove her hand from under his or…

I am thinking too much. It's just a friendly expression of gratitude. We have become closer friends now, after everything that happened with Big Eddie and all… It's my sister who he likes. He called for her the day before yesterday, not for me…-Olivia had to keep reminding herself thus destroying her own hopes.

-What?-his inquisitive sea green gaze halted, inspecting her freckled face. Peter was aware that she was in deep thoughts.

-It's nothing-she shrugged but then she spoke again not being able to stop herself.

-Speaking of Rachel…You called her several times on Sunday. Anything important?

-Well… Yes-Peter admitted honestly. I was calling her to apologize. We had an argument last Wednesday and I wasn't on my best behavior. She got angry…-Peter sighed remembering everything that had transpired. –I didn't wanna lose her over my stupid temperament and my big mouth. Rachel has become a very important person in my life.

-So you two are good friends now?

Peter flinched at the strange tone in Olivia's voice.

It's almost as if she… Were… Uncomfortable because of that. Or… Rachel would say… Jealous? Could she be right?

He opted for a cheeky jovial tone, smiling widely.

-Does that bother you?

-No-she stated quickly and firmly, but he could see traces of blush creeping up her swanlike neck and Peter's grin persisted on his smirky face. Now this is… Interesting.

But then, what Olivia said next, totally threw him off the self-satisfied track he was temporarily on.

-Actually… Yes. Peter… I have noticed that the two of you have grown close lately. She is my younger sister. It is only natural that I am worried about her. She has just gotten out of an unsatisfying marriage with an asshole, which was a complete failure. And then there's Ella, who is currently growing up without a father figure, without father's support… I am not sure in which direction is your friendship going but I think I have the right to know how you feel about Rachel and Ella.-Olivia knew deep inside this wasn't the only reason for her inquiry but she was somehow managing to convince herself she was merely concerned for Rachel and her niece, and nothing else.

That's all that is. I have to tell him this because he needs to know how much I love my sister, he needs to know I wish her all the best.

-Are you implying I would somehow hurt Rachel? I care about her. I care about both of them.-he started clenching his fists.

She's not jealous. She just thinks Rachel and I are going to be together and she wouldn't like to see her baby sister date a con-man. Olivia thinks I am not worthy of Rachel. Well, I guess that answers my question on how she feels about me. And what she thinks of me.

-Peter, I am not accusing you of anything… I am just telling you to think about it…I am not certain whether you are the right person to be with the two of them…

-What do you mean?-Peter growled menacingly, offended.

She blushed and stood up abruptly, distancing from his tense body.

He looks like as if he were ready to pounce and strangle me.

-Well you… You used to be… You have a shady past, Peter-she inhaled deeply but she stood her ground. We both know that. You told me you think more men might be coming after you…

-OK. That part is true-he agreed, relaxing a bit. –But I have also chosen to stay in Boston because I wanted to give normal life a shot. This is the longest time I have ever stayed in one place. I have a home here. You have given me a place to call home, Olivia. I have family and friends. And I opted for being close to them. Facing everything together. I want to stay close to you, Liv.

-But this might put Rachel and Ella in danger. If those people found out you were close, they might…-horrible thoughts were racing through Olivia's mind… -They could kidnap them, use them as leverage against you…

Before Peter could open his mouth and protest, Olivia went on hurriedly. She had to take this out of her.

-Also… Peter… You are the member of Fringe Division. This is a risky job. We are here one day, gone the next. It is not a good working place for someone who… Who is considering starting a family or dedicating to people who are special to him…-those last words came out of Olivia's mouth as a halfhearted whisper and she bit her lower lip furiously, wondering if she might have said too much.

-What's your point? Let me get this straight… In your opinion, I wouldn't be a good husband? I am never going to be capable of being a good father, of taking care of my hypothetical future family, of looking after the people I care about?-Peter was referring to the family situations in general but Olivia misinterpreted it thinking he meant Rachel and Ella.

-Yes-she blurted out. –I am sorry, Peter. That is what I think. You are too self-centered and unstable; your personality is too shifty… This… Combined with your past and with the job you're currently doing… I…For Rach and Ella… It wouldn't be most appropriate-Olivia could see a bitter expression forming on his face as he stood up as well and shook his head in disbelief. She felt a pang of remorse.

-I'm sorry, Peter, you are a good man, you…You have changed a lot in the last ten months… You take good care of Walter. I… The last thing I want is to offend you or hurt you in any way… We have become good friends and… We are partners… It's just that… When it comes to my sister and my niece… I… I guess I am overtly protective… And…

-Ha, ha-he chuckled satirically. –Save it, Dunham. You are an honest person. And you have just candidly told me what exactly you think of me. I didn't expect that from you but… Thank you for that assessment. This conversation, if nothing else, has been very educational. Now I know what I am dealing with.

Having said that, Peter left the office without even looking at her and Olivia almost called after him, taking back everything she said, knowing deeply inside that, partially, her brain was trying to dissuade Peter from becoming even closer to Rachel and Ella because she was so jealous that she couldn't stand seeing them together. But then she bit her tongue and willed herself to calm down.

I didn't say anything that wasn't true. He WAS a con-man. There ARE people who are after him. This job we're doing IS risky.

-Ah, but-another little voice in her head said. –Don't you think you've gone too far? Peter Bishop is a kind, emotional, funny and caring person. A good son and a good friend. Accusing him that he won't be able to look after the people he loves is pretty harsh.

Olivia Dunham knew she blew it. But the worst thing about her was that… She was never good at apologizing.

She hid her head in her hands and closed her eyes tightly, as if wishing to be engulfed in the darkness that temporarily surrounded her, thus evading the all too clear world that threatened to swallow her. She would have to face the consequences of what she'd just said to Peter, she knew that…

And then her phone rang.

-Dunham.

-Olivia-she heard a rasping, albeit weak voice on the other end of the line.

-Charlie?-she jumped up, scared to death. –Charlie, where are you? Is there something wrong?

-I was attacked by that thing… We found it… Here in the woods… It had killed two guys from Animal Control… But then it left… It escaped towards the city… I'm okay… Just a little banged up…

-Give me your approximate location, I'll be right there to pick you up and take you to hospital-Olivia was now sick with worry as she was writing down Charlie's description of the area he was supposedly in…

OLIVIA'S day was like a rollercoaster. It began nicely. Peter was released from hospital. Then it plummeted-she had an argument with him about his presence at the crime scene.

The case started to unravel rapidly. And then she had somehow managed to offend Peter yet again. A man who was probably one of her best friends, besides Charlie. She drove him away from herself…

Afterwards, Olivia found out Charlie was wounded. It turned out it was nothing, just a couple of scratches, and she was relieved. Charlie actually went home. Nothing could have prepared her for yet another sudden downfall, which left Olivia dreading for her best friends life…

The corpse they were examining in the lab burst open all of a sudden, and myriads, as it seemed, of creature larvae poured out of it. Peter and Astrid had to get two buckets to collect them all, and Walter had actually placed some of them in the vials, as samples. Since that was the only cadaver with a jab of a scorpion stinger… It wasn't hard to deduce what the stinger was for. The creature used it when it wanted to mate. And the way its babies were born… Would always kill the host.

Her worst fears were confirmed when Charlie came back to the lab in order to be further tested by Walter. The larvae were inside him and they didn't have much time. Walter tried all possible ways to kill them, but to no avail. They were feeding off of Charlie and he was feeling worse with every passing second. Olivia was sitting next to him as a zombie, and even though he was joking around, trying to cheer her up and tell her everything was gonna be fine, Olivia wasn't so convinced this time round.

Walter had discovered that, introducing a couple of droplets of creature's blood into Charlie's bloodstream might trick the larvae and make them stop feeding of him. But in order to make his plan work… They needed to find the creature, then face it, subdue it or kill it and extract some of its blood. It was a task near to impossible and Olivia knew it. It was so hard to hide her concern for Charlie. She didn't want him to worry more than necessary. They made a deal not to tell anything about it to his wife. Charlie didn't wish to scare her more than necessary.

Olivia wouldn't eat or drink. She was staring at her cell phone all the afternoon, waiting for the news from Broyles, periodically writing down where the beast had been sighted in order to pull some sort of the pattern and conclude something useful about its whereabouts.

Peter was standing by her side, not moving away for an inch. He could feel her desperation and her distress. He knew Olivia hated it when she couldn't actively engage into something… In this case, into saving of her best friend. It didn't depend on her, Olivia had to wait. For now. They needed at least three sightings, at least three locations at which the monster had appeared in order to deduce how was it moving and where might it be now. Peter couldn't bear seeing her like that, bleary eyed and with dark purple bags under her eyelids… He was comforting Olivia the best he could, already forgetting their argument.

Olivia could feel Peter's strong, callous, warm palms, which resided on her shoulders; they would occasionally caress her hair in order to calm her down, and she could hear his deep gentle voice whispering that Charlie was going to pull through, that they were going to make it on time. It made her feel better, him being there for her. And it made Olivia feel ashamed as well. I don't deserve him as a friend. After everything I've told him, he is standing by me.

Peter's touch was also giving her goosebumps and she considered such occurrence to be highly inappropriate, now that she needed to focus, now that Charlie's life was on the line. She stood up abruptly, pacing nervously through the lab and Peter went back into the office to look at the places on the map once again. Astrid joined him and Olivia followed shortly, needing to feel as if she was actually contributing to something.

When she entered the office, she heard Peter and Astrid discussing in hushed, but animate voices and agitatedly pointing at the map.

-What's up?

-We think we've uncovered the pattern-Peter replied excitedly. –The places where the monster has been spotted so far… I've just realized they are all near main sewer entrances.

-The sewers…-Olivia started nodding frenetically… -Yes, that makes sense… The animal would look for a dark, cold, underground place and for the way to move around town unobstructed… Astrid, can you cross check those sewer entrances and find their common point? That's how we'll find out in which sewer network it's hiding!

Astrid went straight back to the lab, turning on the computer and informing Walter of what had just occurred.

-Yes… But there's still a problem of… Actually locating it-Peter chewed his upper lip, immersed deeply in thoughts. –It's like a maze down there.

-How do you know?-Olivia asked, not being able to suppress her curiosity, completely forgetting about the fight they had earlier.

-When I was a kid, I used to love Stephen King. My favorite book was "It".

-"It"?

-You haven't read any of Stephen King's books? You should definitely check out at least "It", "The Shining", "Kujo", "The Pet Sematary" and "Carrie". He's written a lot more but these five are my favorite by far.

-Actually, no. I wasn't really keen on horror literature and movies when I was a girl. I had enough of that in my real life-she stated sternly.

Peter looked at her compassionately.

-I know. I'm sorry.

-It's OK. So, what was the book about?

-Um… It was about an evil clown who lived in the sewers of a small city. He attacked children by pulling them down into the sewer system, where he would eat them. He could take any shape he wanted. Essentially, the clown was the personification of evil that lies dormant, never actually sleeping forever… Anyway, after having read that book, I could never look upon Ronald Mc Donald in the same way again. That's why I buy my cheeseburgers over at Burger King.

-But… That still doesn't explain how it is that you know so much about the Boston sewer system.

-In the book, a bunch of kids hangs out at the canal and near sewer entrances… They're like… Best of friends. And they play there, undisturbed by grown-ups. They start suspecting of the existence of evil beneath their city and they wish to destroy it. One day they go down into the sewers and face the weird clown…

So me and couple of my classmates had a brilliant idea too, when I was in primary school. We decided to check out the Boston sewer system. Walter and Elizabeth never found out, of course. Nothing scary down there… It smelled like crap, there were some rats, it was damp, soggy and cold… And dark. I think that's where I actually kissed the girl for the first time. While the others were busy exploring the tunnels with their flashlights.

-Yuck! In the sewers?

-Yeah, it was awkward. I was nine. Our tongues and teeth collided all the time, and it was very wet. I didn't know what to do with my hands. Didn't enjoy it very much.

-Was it the same girl you kissed under the table for your birthday?-she inquired playfully.

-Um… I'm not sure… I used to take many girls under the table at my birthday parties, but I guess so, she probably was one of them. Whoa, whoa, whoa. How do you know about that?-Peter cocked his head inquisitively. –Oh, yeah-he suddenly remembered.-Ella's birthday party and Walter's big mouth. I almost forgot.

They shared a timid smile looking at each other.

When we banter like this, it almost seems as if we hadn't had a fight-Olivia thought, but made a mental note to certainly apologize to Peter and to have a long talk with him as soon as this is all over.

Ella's birthday party. The day when everything was perfect. When I held her in my arms while we were dancing. It seems so far away now. After what happened with Big Eddie… With Lucas, with Ella and Rachel…. My hospital madness… And now this new gap between us. What she said to me…. Did she really mean it? Does Olivia Dunham truly have such a bad opinion about me?-Peter was wondering dejectedly.

Walter barged into the office enthusiastically at precisely that moment.

-Am I interrupting something?-he winked.

Shut up, benchwarmer-Peter thought, feeling how his cheeks reddened almost immediately, but he just shook his head exasperatedly.

-What's up, Walter? What's on your mind?

-I congratulate you on discovering how the creature is moving about, son! That's some quick thinking! Now…-he rubbed his hands together. –I presume you two will be going to the sewers, is that correct? Afro has just told me she discovered a convergence point for all the sewer entrances you localized on the map.

-I think we should firstly call for back up-Peter stated cautiously.

-I wouldn't recommend that, boy.

-Why the heck not? Do you want to get Olivia and me killed?

-The creature in question has an extremely acute hearing. It will be able to determine how many people are in the sewers. If it hears too many voices, too many footsteps… It might retreat and go into hiding. An intelligent animal like that knows when to withdraw from the more powerful enemy. That is not your objective.

-Yeah, our objective is to send only one person inside with the letters "I'm your juicy meal" written all over his or her forehead, is that what you're trying to say? You want us to be the bait, to lure the creature to come out from its hiding place? That's fantastic, Walter!

-Maybe the creature wouldn't come, not even then.

-What do you suggest, Walter?-Olivia asked desperately. –How do we make it come out?

-Now you're on his side too? That's splendid! You know, I can't believe we're actually having this conversation!

-Bats are highly maternal species, agent Dunham-Walter simply stated without looking at Peter. -The creature will react to the presence of its young. You should take some larvae down with you to the sewers. The mother will be able to hear her babies and she will come to you, moving in the direction of the sound.

-Awesome! And then we just stand in line and politely say: Which one of us would you like to taste for starters, and who is going to be a main course?-Peter remarked sardonically.

-Well, once the animal is out in the open, you should quickly shoot it before it tries to pounce on either of you. Stay out of the way of its fangs, and its tail. Then collect its blood and bring it back here to me. I will then administer it into Agent Francis's bloodstream. Agent Dunham is a good shooter, isn't that correct, agent Dunham?

Olivia simply nodded.

-Yeah, Walter, when you put it like that, it sounds like a piece of cake. Easy breezy. Are both of you out of your mind?

-Based on the estimated size of the monster, you are going to need a 50-caliber incendiary rounds-Walter continued stubbornly.

-That's not exactly FBI standard issue-Olivia noted, -but I am going to manage. –Let me call Broyles.

Peter sighed deeply, but, seeing how determined she was, and noticing the sad look she gave in Charlie's direction, he knew there was nothing else to be done. The decision was made and the only thing he could do was to stand by her. And he was damned if he wasn't going to do just that.

ABOUT half an hour later, everything was ready. The vial with the larvae and the weapon were lying on the lab table. Olivia was putting on knee-deep rubber boots and she was placing the rucksack with flashlights and her cellphone on her back. Then she began a nervous pacing around her office. It was around nine o'clock in the evening. Charlie's state was slowly deteriorating. He depended solely on her.

Tears appeared out of nowhere in the corners of Olivia's eyes and she started wiping them away furiously with her small fists.

Walter's plans were always… Well… Extremely risky and hypothetical. They would also normally work. But there was just too many if-then in this one that she started losing hope. Life of her best friend depended on a wild guess about sewer tunnels and a vial of larva baby monsters. Who could guarantee her that the hybrid animal would appear at all? Who knew where it was by now?

She ran her nervous fingers through her messy, tangled hair.

Peter showed up at the door, similarly equipped, to ask her if she was ready to go, but then he stopped dead in his tracks and stared at her, confused. He could immediately sense something was off about Olivia. In the semi-darkness of her office, he wasn't fully able to see what it was, so he quickly approached her.

-Olivia-he swallowed, seeing her in a state of disarray. –Are you OK?

Small salty pearls were running down her face and she shook her head.

-No.

-Hey-Peter carefully advanced towards Olivia, with his hands lowered down, as if he were moving toward a frightened wild animal, showing it he meant it no harm.

-Peter-she whispered. And then Olivia started to speak incredibly fast, and blurry incoherent sentences were shooting out of her mouth so quickly that Peter almost wasn't able to discern what she was saying.

-Peter… What if I fail? And I am the one who's supposed to stop things like this… I mean… I am not saying I don't trust your father, but with a plan like that… Anything can go wrong. Who knows what might happen in the sewers. One of us might even die down there, maybe both of us… And Charlie…

-Or maybe we could kiss in the sewer tunnel-he winked at her, trying to diffuse the tension.

- Peter…-she shook her head at him wondering how he can still joke around like that in such a serious situation. And then her eyes shot up as if she remembered something. –Maybe you should…Maybe you should stay here.

-That is out of the question this time. You will not be able to stop me from going with you, Olivia. You can fire me if you want. I am not letting you go down there alone. That would truly be insane. Besides… I am the one who knows how to properly extract the blood from the monster once we do kill it. Walter has just finished giving me instructions.

-If we kill it-she sighed and her shoulders started shaking as she let out a small sob, rocking backwards and forwards.

-Olivia-Peter was truly frightened for her mental health. She seemed as if she were on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He had actually never witness her fall to pieces like that before and it scared him. Olivia was always the pillar of strength, the one person who had been together with everything that was going on, no matter what.

Without thinking, Peter approached her even closer and placed his hands on her shoulders, looking hard into her hazy, unfocused, olive-green eyes. She blinked heavily several times, angry at herself. I never wanted him to see me like this. So… Weak.

-Olivia, listen to me. You need to calm down. You're not thinking straight, and you are not making any sense. I want you focused. I want you strong. Be tough for Charlie. You are the team leader, Olivia. You have done this thousands of times. You know the drill. Why the sudden pessimism? Are you seriously telling me that Special Bad Ass Agent Olivia Dunham, who was bound and abducted, and managed to incapacitate five of her captors at once and escape, can't look one weird patchwork animal into the ugly yellow eye? Olivia… I've never met anyone who could do things that you do. I have faith in you. Why don't you trust yourself? Walter was never wrong before. We can pull this through, you and I. We'll do it together. We'll save Charlie. I know you think you're alone in this. Because… That's just who you are. Strong, independent, admirable young woman. But this isn't just your fight. I am here too. And I am not going anywhere.

Having said that, Peter reluctantly pulled her into a comforting embrace, praying she wouldn't push him away, but he didn't have to fear that this time. Olivia welcomed his warm touch and rested her weary head on his muscular chest, listening to the strong rhythm of Peter's heartbeat. It had an instant soothing effect on her and Olivia remembered the way his sudden appearance calmed her and steadied her when she was supposed to turn off the lights on David Robert Jones's command.

-Peter, why is this happening to me? I am so scared. I was never like this before…

-It's normal to be afraid sometimes, sweetheart. It's perfectly understandable from where I'm standing. The case is very personal for you and that is the chink in your armor. You are like this because of Charlie. Because you care about him so much. But don't be scared. It's gonna be OK. Trust me.

And she did, for some reason. She believed it when he said it.

Peter took her head into his both palms and wiped away the tears from the corners of her beautiful big eyes. Then he pulled a Kleenex out of his pocket and placed it below her nostrils.

–Now blow.

Olivia blew her nose obediently and he wiped it gently.

–There. That's a good girl.

Olivia couldn't help but grin widely at the way he treated her. Now she felt much calmer and composed thanks to this kind, gentle man who had such a way with words.

-Feeling better, honey?-he whispered tenderly.

She assented wordlessly, but such an immense gratitude was mirrored in her emerald pupils that Peter's heart swelled with emotion. Words weren't needed at all.

-In that case… Lead on, boss.-Peter smirked. -Let's go save the world.

Olivia nodded one more time, gave him a little shy, thankful smile and they went out of the lab together.



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