When Matt comes home to find Pete on the couch, he assumes he must be dreaming.
It's a reasonable assumption to make: Pete's dead. He died keeping Matt and Shannon and Ben safe, Matt saw it, saw the blood spitting up from between Pete's lips, saw Tommy beating the life out of him one punch at a time. He saw Pete's body, broken on the ground; it's a fucking miracle he didn't crash the car as they drove away because he didn't see the road, he just saw Pete. That's all he can remember seeing as the car sped away, carrying Matt helplessly to safety.
And everyone said. Everyone said he was dead.
"Hello, Yankee," says Pete.
"You're dead," Matt replies, dumbly, his ears ringing as he takes in Pete, sitting there on Matt and Shannon's couch like he has any right to it at all. "You died. Tommy-"
"Had a good go it, yeah," Pete says. One half of his mouth draws up in a smirk. "Takes more than Tommy Hatcher to put me six feet under, though."
Matt stares at him, uncomprehending, and then Shannon comes bursting in, a frenzied whirl of apologies and explanations and accusations, the latter of which she hurls at Steve, who comes in behind her, Ben cradled closely to his chest.
"Hi Steve," Matt says automatically. "Good flight?"
"Yeah, thanks," says Steve: polite, friendly, not at all as if his undead brother is sitting six feet away. Steve follows Matt's eyes to the couch and grimaces. "Listen, mate, it's not your sister's fault-"
"You told me he was dead!" Matt yells then, shocking himself when the words explode out of his mouth and Shannon reels back like he's punched her. Ben starts in his father's arms and the corners of his mouth turn down. "You fucking lied to me!"
"I didn't know Steve was going to bring him," she starts, wringing her hands. "I would never have let you find out like this."
"Were you planning on letting me find out at all? What the fuck, Shannon, why the fuck didn't you tell me?"
"I couldn't tell you," Steve says to Shannon, as if Matt hadn't spoken at all. "You wouldn't have let me come."
"You're god damned right I wouldn't!" she cries, turning on him. "After the shit he put us through?"
"I couldn't leave him!" Steve insists. "Shannon, I had to bring him - I had to see you, I had to see my son."
"You lied to me," she seethes. Her thin hands are bunched into tight fists at her sides. "Again."
Matt starts laughing. He can't help it. "You're mad because you didn't know Pete was coming? Seriously?"
Her face crumples. Her hands un-knot and reach for him. "Matt-"
"Fuck you!" he yells, right in her face, and turns and slams the door as he leaves.
He doesn't get far - a block, maybe two - before he hears Pete behind him.
"Matt," Pete says, and when Matt ignores him, "Come on mate, at least let me - fuck."
Matt turns around and sees Pete hunched over, one hand bracing himself against the wall, the other clutching his side. Despite himself, Matt finds his feet carrying him towards Pete. "What is it?"
"Not quite up to speed yet." Pete flashes him a lopsided grin. This close, Matt can see the scar tugging at one side of his mouth, another slicing across the opposite eye. The painful hitch of his shoulders with each breath.
"Fucking hell," says Matt. He slides in under Pete's arm - easy, he's done it before enough times - and holds him up. "Let's go back. You look like you're gonna hurl."
"That wouldn't be the worst of it," Pete pants, pushing himself upright with a groan. His arm tightens around Matt's shoulder and Matt flashes back to any number of fights that left them hobbling home together, holding each other up. "Fuck me. If I'd known you were gonna make me chase you I'd have had some more physical therapy first."
"Shut up," says Matt, because he doesn't want to think about it, about Pete learning to walk and move and all the time Matt didn't even know he was breathing. Matt pushes his face into Pete's jacket. His own arm clenches around Pete's waist. He makes some kind of noise.
"All right," says Pete. They take a few steps. "All right."
Back at the house, they sit in the living room with their hands curled around cups of coffee and mugs of the tea Shannon bought when she was stocking the kitchen in anticipation of Steve's visit.
"I'm glad he's coming, but I still don't know if it means we can make our marriage work," she kept saying, but her face lit up every time she mentioned Steve's name.
Now, the glow has drained from her skin. She looks small, and skinny, and tired.
"When I spoke to your sister the first time, after you got back to the States, we didn't think Pete was going to make it through the night," Steve is saying quietly. "There didn't seem any point in telling you."
"You were already grieving," Shannon adds. The steam from her coffee curls towards her face. "What would have been the point?"
Matt can see that. He tries to put himself in Shannon's shoes, and he can see that. But that doesn't explain the rest of it. "And when he did make it?"
"I was in a coma," Pete speaks up. Steve fed him a cocktail of pills when they got back to the house, and he seems to be resting easier against the cushions now. "I didn't wake up for a month. They didn't know if I was ever going to."
Matt turns back to Steve. "And what, you were just going to lie to me for the rest of my life?" he demands. "Stay married to my sister and just never mention that your brother was lying in a coma somewhere?"
"Matt," says Shannon. She lays her hand on Matt's arm. "Please. We're trying to explain."
Matt grits his teeth, then lets out a breath, trying to relax. He's so tense he can feel his brain grinding against his skull.
Pete clears his throat. "When I woke up, they asked if I wanted to phone you." He looks down at Ben, who's sitting next to him on the couch, curled into Pete's side and playing quietly with a picture book. "I said no."
Matt stares at him. "You said no."
"You would have tried to come back," Pete says, pained. "It wasn't safe. And anyway I was pissing into a bag and eating through a tube. You didn't need to see that."
"I wouldn't have cared," Matt says. His hands are too tight around his mug - he forces himself to loosen them before he ends up bleeding and burned on top of everything else. "You should have - you should have."
"I know," Pete says. Ben shows him a page in the book, and Pete looks down at it and smiles before going on. "I just - you'd gone, and you were out of it, and I thought what's the point of dragging you back in?"
"It's not up to you what I do!" Matt scowls. "You always think you know better than I do, you're so fucking-"
"I didn't tell Shannon I was bringing him," Steve interrupts before Matt can really work himself up again. "She'd finally agreed to let me come, and I knew if I said anything-"
"I don't understand why you had to bring him at all," Shannon says bitterly. "All he's ever brought to this family is more and more shit."
"I couldn't leave him!" Steve snaps. "He'd have been straight back down The Abbey and into it again!"
"Oh, you mean like you were?" Shannon's voice rises, goes thready, and shakes. "Like you were down there getting stabbed in the neck by Tommy fucking Hatcher? Whenever you try to help Pete he just makes things worse, I don't even-"
"He didn't come to The Abbey to help Pete," Matt stops her. "He came to help me."
She stares at him, lost. "What?"
"He found out I was a journalism major and he wanted to warn me about - about how things really were in the Firm, how bad they could get." Steve's nodding along - willing Shannon to believe it so hard Matt can feel it radiating out of him. Matt goes on, "Steve wanted to get me out before anyone found out about me - but it was too late. Bovver had already told Pete. And he was going to hurt me - wanted the whole Firm to get me dead or worse, but Pete stopped them."
Pete looks for a second like he's going to say something smart, then Steve shoots him a sharp look and Pete seems to think better of it. He moves one shoulder n a half-shrug instead, like doing a good thing is embarrassing.
"Bovver was so mad at Pete for taking my side, he went and told Tommy that Steve was back in The Abbey," Matt says to Shannon. "Tommy came down, crazed, and that's how Steve got hurt. It wasn't his fault. He was trying to help me. They were both trying to help me."
She shakes her head - her eyes are wet and red spots burn high on her cheeks. "It's not your job to protect Matt," she tells Steve. Her hands are shaking. "That's my job. He's my baby brother."
"Yeah, well," says Steve. "Pete's mine."
She blinks, and turns, and stares at Pete like she's never seen him before. Matt gets it - it's hard to think of Pete as anyone's baby anything - but he looks different, here, now. He's badly injured still, and he's so thin - frail is the word Matt wants to use. Not a word he ever thought he would use for Pete, who can bench Matt's entire weight and silence a classroom of rowdy kids with a single word, and likes to kick people's heads in for fun.
Not right now, though. Right now Pete looks like making it up the stairs would be a heroic achievement. He looks more like Steve, too - pale skin and blond hair and big eyes over cheekbones that sink in a little too far. Both of them cautious, moving slow.
Shannon's mouth moves in the way that means she's battling inside her own head. She got that from Mom. Eventually she pushes her hair out of her face and stands up, resolute.
"You can take Matt's room," she says, not looking directly at Pete, but not staring daggers at him either. "I need to start dinner."
They're watching Eastenders, a show so un-removed from reality that the first time Matt saw it, he thought it was a documentary, much to Pete's amusement.
"It's a soap opera," he'd said, in that voice that meant Matt was being especially thick. "Don't you have those over in the colonies?"
"Ours don't look like they were shot on someone's home video camera," Matt said, watching the two deeply unattractive people on screen talk about how some other deeply unattractive person had slept with someone they shouldn't have and everyone was going to find out. "But the plots are basically the same, I see."
Pete never misses an episode, and although he doesn't really seem to be watching, sitting cross-legged on the floor grading homework on the coffee-table, he can always explain exactly what's going on if Matt doesn't understand why everyone on screen is yelling at the guy with the severely thinning red hair.
"He shagged his own son's fiancée," he says now, frowning at the book in front of him. Matt peeks over his shoulder and sees Pete write 'see me' in red ink at the bottom of the page. Oh dear. "Dirty bastard."
Matt chuckles and lies back against the couch cushions. "For someone who enjoys beating the crap out of people, you have a weirdly strict moral code."
Pete flashes him a grin over his shoulder. "Mate," he says, slapping the book on the finished pile and grabbing the next one, "I've got layers like you wouldn't believe."
Matt scoffs, and Pete heaves himself up to sit on the couch, pressing in next to Matt's leg. "Matt," he says, his hand on Matt's knee. "Matt. Matt."
Matt drags his eyes open and squints, making out Pete perched on the edge of the couch, shaking Matt's knee through the blankets. "Mmf," he says. "What - you should be asleep, man."
"Jetlag," says Pete. "I'm fucking wide awake, sunshine."
He tries to con Matt into making him tea, but Matt is stern - he marches Pete right back up the stairs and back to bed. He sits on the edge and watches Pete get comfortable.
"You haven't got to sleep on the settee, you know," Pete says. "We shared enough times in London."
"We're not in London," says Matt, but he finds himself climbing in anyway, burrowing under the covers, curling onto his side to face Pete.
"See," says Pete. "Plenty of room. You're only three foot six."
"Fuck you," says Matt.
Pete laughs. One of his eyes crunches up more than the other when he smiles, because of the scar.
Matt reaches out and touches without thinking about it. "Did it hurt? When you woke up?"
"Like a motherfucker," Pete confirms.
Matt traces the scar by his mouth this time. "You look like Two-Face."
"From Batman." Pete looks blank, and Matt rolls his eyes. "I forgot how uncultured you are."
"Fuck off. Some of us didn't know the difference between Lenin and Stalin, if I remember correctly."
"I misheard, you son of a bitch."
"Yeah, yeah," says Pete, and the next thing Matt knows he's tight up against Pete's body and he can feel Pete hard against his hip.
"Jetlag, huh," says Matt, arching into it.
"Piss off, it's been months," says Pete, dropping his hand to clutch at Matt's hip. "Fucking hospitals, I couldn't even have a wank - oh."
They don't kiss - that was never a big part of it anyway. It was more about having someone to touch and push against when they fell into bed drunk, high on the fight, adrenaline seething under the skin, looking for a way out. It's different now - Matt's pulse chants alive alive alive and he tries to be gentle, although Pete's not really on board with that and Matt knows he'll be sporting at least one new bruise tomorrow.
Afterwards, they lie together panting for breath. Matt says, "You should have fucking called me."
"I'm sorry," Pete says. He's sincere, and just like that, Matt forgives him.
It's strange, having Pete here in the States. Matt wants to give Shannon and Steve as much space to work things out as possible, which means he ends up towing Pete and Ben around town a lot: to baseball games (much to Pete's initial disgust and then grudging entertainment), to sightsee, to the park.
"We look like gay dads," Pete says grumpily. He's sitting on a swing and watching Matt guide Ben carefully down the slide.
"Please," says Matt. "Who'd have a kid with an ugly bastard like you?"
Pete gives him the finger.
Later, they sit on a bench and watch the world go by for a while. Ben is crashed out in his stroller, exhausted after the high-octane thrill of duck-feeding.
"Steve says he can work here," Pete says suddenly. He taps his fingers against the bench and doesn't look at Matt. "His company can transfer him to their offices here. I don't think Shannon's mad keen on coming back to Blighty."
Matt thinks about Steve living here. He hopes it works out - he likes Steve, and he likes happy Shannon, and the two go together. "I got back into Harvard," he tells Pete then. "Got that Van Holden jerk and good."
"Yeah?" Pete grins and knocks Matt on the shoulder. "Good on you, mate."
"I didn't know what you would think," Matt blurts out in an awkward rush. "I mean - I have to wait and repeat the whole semester, so I need a job in the meantime, and my Dad isn't good for much but he got me a spot working for The Globe. I mean it's just grunt work, but..."
Pete sucks his lower lip into his mouth and nods, like he's waiting for more.
"I'm a journalist," Matt says. "I mean, I'm gonna be a journalist. That's not - I'm not going to change that."
"I know," says Pete, like Matt's stupid.
"You hate journalists," Matt reminds him.
"I hate a lot of things," Pete says philosophically. He looks out across the pond. "I hate Americans. Just for example."
"Right," says Matt dryly. "So what will you do?"
Pete shrugs. "Signed off sick for the rest of the school year. Job's there in September if I want it."
Pete's quiet for a long time before he says, "I dunno, mate, to be honest with you. It's a good school and I love the kids, but I've been there three years. Maybe it's time to move on."
"You gonna look for a different school?"
"Different area, maybe." Pete nods slowly to himself. "I don't know how much there is for me in the East End, if Steve's going to up sticks."
"What about the Firm?" Matt asks before he can stop himself. "Swill and all the guys-"
"I've lost my taste for it a bit, to be honest," says Pete. Fake casual. "After what happened. Maybe I'm more like Steve than I thought, which is fucking depressing."
"I think there are worse people to be like than Steve."
Pete looks at him sideways. "Followed him all the way here, didn't I?"
"Yeah," says Matt.
They sit there a while longer, enjoying the quiet.
Later, Matt slots the last of the dishes into the rack to dry, and turns to find Shannon standing in the doorway to the living room. Steve and Pete are on the couch with Ben in Steve's lap - the Discovery Channel is on.
"See," Pete is saying very seriously to Ben, "Rasputin was poisoned, beaten, castrated - I'll tell you what that is when you're older - and tied up and wrapped in a carpet before they threw him in the river, but what actually killed him was the drowning. You have to respect a man who just refuses to fucking die."
"Language," says Steve mildly.
"When they burned his body, some people said he was still alive and tried to sit up and move around," Pete goes on, ignoring him. Ben watches Pete wide-eyed, the ear of his stuffed rabbit jammed into his mouth. "But that was probably because they didn't know how to cremate him properly and all his tendons curled up in the fire."
"Bloody hell," says Steve. "Is that why I paid a bloody fortune for you to go to university? So you could tell my baby son horror stories?"
"That's nothing," says Pete. "There's a documentary about Attila on later."
"Bloody hell," says Steve again.
Matt touches Shannon's shoulder; she startles slightly, and turns to give him one of her quick smiles, her fingers pressed over her mouth.
"It's like I don't even know who he is," she whispers. "He never did let me get anywhere near him - I think he was too mad at me for taking Steve away."
"You didn't take Steve away," Matt assures her, squeezing her arm.
She shakes her head. "I don't know - sometimes I think that's why Pete got so into that thug life."
"Nobody has ever made Pete do anything he didn't want to do," Matt says firmly. "None of this was your fault."
She smiles at him and grabs his hand briefly, then turns again to watch her family in the living room.
That night in bed, Matt turns to Pete and says,
"You have a subscription to History Today, you hide your serious books behind footballer's autobiographies, and you're secretly a dab hand with concealer after showing up on one too many Monday mornings with a black eye."
Pete looks at him like he's crazy. "Okay?"
Matt nods. "I'm just saying I know who you are."
"And I know you're a bloody weirdo," says Pete, and then, "I've got something for you."
He bends backwards over the side of the bed and rummages for a minute, then comes back and hands something to Matt. "You left this at mine."
Matt looks at it. It's his thesis on the paparazzi. He flips through it quickly - at the back he finds that Pete has written, Good work and a smiley face in red pen. Matt cuts his eyes at Pete.
Pete just laughs. "I mean it! It's good. You're good."
"Thanks," Matt says, half bashful and half wary. He puts the thesis down on his nightstand and settles back into bed.
Pete's not wearing a shirt. Matt touches his West Ham tattoo. He can feel Pete's heart beating underneath. He says, "We have schools here, you know."
"I've heard that," Pete murmurs. His eyes are half closed.
"And soccer teams that need coaches."
Pete smiles a little bit. "If your performance in the World Cup is anything to go by, you need more than bloody coaches, mate. You need a miracle."
This time, Matt kisses him. He's careful, but he's thorough, and Pete opens up for it sweet as anything. Somewhere in there Pete whispers, "I can be different. Like Steve's different - I can be different, yeah?"
"You came back from the dead," Matt reminds him, rolling him onto his back. "You can do anything."
It feels true, here in the dark of Matt's room. They can do anything at all.