More than the sharp pull of fear encompassed in his nightmares, the remnants of memory that became something else, something even fiercer, harder to defeat, Neal hated that his monsters had the power to wake Peter. Eleven months and sixteen days after Neal had disappeared into Harden’s Warehouse Laboratory of Mayhem and Evil—as he and Elizabeth preferred to call it when trying to leech some of the horror from the situation—Neal awoke from the worst nightmare he’d had in eight, maybe nine months, Peter also gasping at his side, repeating his name urgently.
Neal said, “Hey,” because Peter wasn’t trying to wake him; he was still asleep. Peter was calling for him, unable to reach him. His fear was bright and painful inside Neal’s mind, now that Neal was awake in the calming darkness of their room, their home. He said, “Peter,” and Peter came up from the dream with a hoarse shout.
Next to Peter, Elizabeth rolled out of bed and said, “Be right back.”
Even with the fuse, Neal was consistently awestruck by how Elizabeth knew precisely how to handle the two of them: when to leave them alone, when not to leave them alone, when to yell, when to kiss, whatever. It was like she had a sixth sense about keeping the three of them whole that neither he nor Peter had managed to acquire.
Peter had his hands on Neal, not in a sexual way, more the way he looked Neal over after a job gone wrong, when there had been bullets or fists involved, except with his hands. Neal said, “I’m here,” but arched into the touch, laid back, let Peter continue physically reassuring himself.
“I hate that one,” Peter said, his voice rough.
“Sorry,” Neal murmured. He hated it too. It was more sensation than visual, and Neal trusted visuals. Also, he consistently woke with a headache, like emotional scar tissue.
“No,” Peter said, “that wasn’t—“
Neal could see the outline of Peter shaking his head in the dark, could feel Peter’s frustration at the way words weren’t working, at how his heart wouldn’t quite settle. Neal rose up a bit to kiss him. Peter kissed back, but then pulled away, with a, “Can I-- Let me—“
Neal received flashes of comfort and possession, but it wouldn’t have mattered, his answer was always going to be, “Whatever. Whatever you want.”
Peter turned Neal over, onto his stomach. Neal closed his eyes, letting Peter’s intent, his focus on Neal sink in. It was one of Neal’s favorite feelings. He’d confided that to Elizabeth once, embarrassed but somehow compelled to be honest. She’d grinned and said, “Oh. Yes, that’s one of my favorites, too.”
Peter was rustling around in the nightstand, and Neal listened, lazily, as the cap to something was opened, then shut. Peter’s hands rubbed together, the whisper of calluses and skin sliding along, and then settled on Neal’s back, large and warm and excruciatingly safe. Peter proceeded to work his hands into Neal’s muscles, slipping over skin with the help of the lotion, digging in where Neal responded the most.
Neal let himself lose track of whom he was, whom Peter was, let Peter’s concentration and his own need come together, become indivisible.
Vaguely, Neal recognized Peter had removed Neal’s boxers, was working on the lower half of his body, but he was more sense impression and emotion than anything else by that time. Neal groaned when Peter found a spot on his calf that was tight after that evening’s run. Peter’s laugh was husky, sweet.
Peter bit into the flesh of Neal’s left heel, not enough to hurt, just enough to send a jolt of electricity all the way up Neal’s spine. Neal whimpered. Peter said, “Tell me what you want. Just, talk.”
Talking was what Neal did best, really, all the time, except now, when what he wanted was too big for words. He ended up saying, “Safe, keep me safe,” because the nightmare had faded, but the last of the tight feeling in his stomach was still fading, the shakiness under his skin and the ache behind his eyes managing to hang in there, fighting against the comfort of Peter’s hands.
“That’s not even a question,” Peter said, and Neal knew Peter’s promises when he heard them.
“Show me,” Neal said, layering the request. He would beg, if that was what Peter wanted—sometimes it was, and Neal didn’t mind, could even enjoy the anticipation—but he didn’t think that was what they were doing right now. Right now it was about what Peter could give Neal, what Neal wanted to take.
Mostly, Neal wanted to obliterate the line between giving and taking. “Show me.”
Peter rose up, kissing at the back of Neal’s neck, along his spine. The cap popped again, but this time there was only the cool slide of Peter’s finger into Neal. Neal said, “Yes, yes, like that,” and Peter gave him a second finger.
Peter pulled Neal onto his side, the little spoon to Peter’s big, and entered him slowly, so slowly Neal thought he might have to beg after all. When Peter bottomed out and stayed for a long, long moment, Neal said, “Peter,” and it was as close to pleading as any word had ever been.
“I’ve got you,” Peter said, and then moved, smooth and controlled, slow and strong. His arms were around Neal, one hand on Neal’s chest, another on his cock.
Neal found himself clinging to the arm at his chest, his fingers digging in. There would be bruises later, Neal’s marks, and that only made him cling harder. Peter growled, “Don’t let go.”
Neal said, “No, no,” and kept his hold even as they both plummeted into release.
Peter’s breathing evened out and he drifted back into sleep within moments of orgasm. Neal could have followed easily enough, but he didn’t want to. He enjoyed the conscious feeling of Peter being this at peace, the limp, satisfied post-coital place he was currently in.
Elizabeth returned with two mugs of chamomile tea, and Neal found it in himself to get up, clean himself and Peter with warm washcloths. She said, “I missed all the excitement, huh?” but didn’t sound put out. Sometimes it was just like that. Neal knew the two of them had moments together. Even Neal and Elizabeth, sometimes, although that was a slowly building thing between the two of them, like high school kids still figuring out how everything worked. Neal loved it.
He took one of the mugs from her as she got into bed next to him. They sat with their backs to the headboard, knees curled into each other. Neal liked that Elizabeth knew how to listen, but never seemed to need him to talk, not if he didn’t want to.
He sipped slowly at the tea, sweetened just the way he liked it, and asked, “Mind if I stay in the middle?”
They usually slept Neal-Peter-Elizabeth, but there nights when Elizabeth wasn’t feeling well and needed to be spoiled by both her men, or nights when Neal needed complete encapsulation. This was neither, but Neal liked the heat of having them on either side, the way their breathing sometimes matched, the scent of Elizabeth’s hair, the solidness of Peter’s frame.
“Anything else is off the table,” she responded, and he could hear in her voice the things she never said, about how sometimes she needed to be able to make sure he was really there. Of all of them, Elizabeth was best about keeping her own issues off the others, either by damaging repression or a tendency to bring them out at the wrong time, but Neal knew that didn’t mean they weren’t there. Elizabeth had nightmares, too. And if they weren’t as violent or chilling as Neal’s, Neal thought that was more a result of Elizabeth’s willingness to face demons in daylight than any remove from the situation.
Neal swallowed the last of his tea and waited for Elizabeth to finish. The warmth, the soothing properties of the drink were combining with his physical exhaustion, making it hard for him to stay awake, even while still enjoying the calm of the moment.
Elizabeth put their mugs on the nightstand and tugged Neal down with her, into the bed. Even sleeping, the moment Neal lay down next to Peter, Peter’s arm was around him, holding on. Elizabeth snuggled into him until it was hard to tell where each of them ended.
She said, “Sleep, sweetheart.”
“Mm,” Neal agreed, even the distant fear of the nightmare coming back mostly swept away by the softness of her, the dependability of the bed, of Peter.
“We’ll be here when you wake.”
More than that: they would wake him if necessary. The promise settled in his stomach, warmer and more filling than the tea. He mumbled, “Love you,” and for once, didn’t worry about whether it was said in response. Neal had spent so long learning the tells of a lie he’d forgotten exactly how to know the tells of a truth. Even so, he believed them when they said it. He didn’t even have to feel it in Peter, although he could. They had tutored him in trust, a skill he’d long since abandoned. He closed his eyes.
He dreamed of Gauguin’s The Siesta. He dreamed of them, the three of them, in color.