Actions

Work Header

A Different Way to Walk

Work Text:

The weird thing is.

It didn’t actually start with Mikey. When you look from the outside it seems like it should. After all, Mikey’s her husband and Alicia wears their love inked into her skin -- but it didn’t.

It started years and, what feels like, a lifetime ago. It started with a relationship forged from late nights and a relentless battle to prove her worth. It started with Pete.

Not that she knew it back then.

~*~*~*~

Alicia skirts a bonfire, the backs of her legs warm from the flames. She’s making her way toward Pete and while she can’t see him right now she knows where he is. It’s where he always is, the magnetic center in the midst of a crowd: compelling always, embracing the limelight as much as he hates it.

It’s something Alicia picks over, when she lies in bed exhausted but unable to sleep. Sometimes she thinks she’s made a mistake, and has landed in a relationship she’ll never understand. Or more truthfully, she’ll never understand Pete.

Not that she’s thinking that now. She flashes a grin at Avenged’s drum tech and jumps when she hears a prolonged yell. Alicia doesn’t stop walking, by now she’s learned to distinguish between the sounds of actual alarm and those of people letting off steam. This is the second and she looks up in time to see Dirty fling himself off of the top of a bus, and land out of sight with a splash.

“Told you! Told you he’d do it!”

Pete’s easy to hear, his voice raised and laugh distinctive. When Alicia eases through the last group of people she sees him balancing on an old lawn chair, his grin wide and arms raised high.

“Did you see?” Pete turns to Alicia, honing in on her like he’s been tracking her movement. “He jumped. He fucking jumped.”

“Hope the wading pool was bigger this time,” Alicia says, and stands next to Pete. The side of his leg brushes against her arm and Pete briefly touches her hair, tugging on one of the small plaits. Alicia looks up and smiles.

Pete jumps, landing lightly. He bumps his arm against Alicia’s and asks, “You staying?”

“Sure,” Alicia says.

Pete smiles, the smallest curl of his lips. It’s a world away from his shield-like grin and Alicia could get lost in this moment -- the crackle of fire and dark skies, smoke and laughter and music that bleeds together from all sides -- and then Pete’s pulling away, his grin returning as he looks back to the buses.

“I’m going to jump.” Pete eyes are gleaming and he pulls off his hoodie, tying it around his neck like a cape. “I’m going to fly.”

“I know.” Alicia stands watching, says softly, “Land safe.”

~~~~~

“She never expected it to last.

But somehow it did. Alicia still doesn’t know how. It was supposed to be a fling, something fun at the time and not meant for forever. And yet, somehow they didn’t split up -- not officially at least. Alicia lived her own life and carved her own space in the world, and all the time Pete was a constant.

Emails and texts and in-person meetings where they’d hide from the world and ‘Pete Wentz frontman of Fall Out Boy’ would became Pete.

It’s why this new Warped is so weird, and why Alicia’s realising that despite time and perceived closeness, she still doesn’t know Pete in the slightest.

~*~*~*~*~

“Sorry, I went for hangs with Mikey,” Pete says, almost falling onto the bus. The bridge of his nose is sun-blushed, his hair mussed as Pete throws himself down onto the bench seat, invading Alicia’s space.

Almost immediately Joe stands, putting on sunglasses as he heads outside and says, “See you later.”

“Was it something I said?” Pete’s forehead is creased, his smile fading as the door closes with a long hiss.

“He probably felt awkward,” Alicia says. She rests her fingers on Pete’s cheeks for a moment, feeling the heat of the sun. “You know, with you announcing to your girlfriend that you’ve just left your boyfriend.”

Pete’s eyes widen, his mouth opening and closing before he says, “It’s not like that. We’re not.... I just like him.”

Alicia knows. It’s impossible not to when lately Pete’s every sentence seems to include Mikey. Not that she’s jealous. You can’t be with Pete, who forms instant connections and always loves hard. It means Alicia constantly shares him, with Dirty and Patrick, with his band, and to a lesser extent with the fans. Still, there’s something else there, and as much as she suspects that she shouldn’t, Alicia can’t help trying to figure things out.

“I like him, too,” Alicia says, slouching down so Pete can fit himself against her. “He’s nice.”

“He is,” Pete agrees. He’s got his leg draped over Alicia’s now, his head on her shoulder. When Alicia takes a breath Pete smells of cut grass and second hand smoke. “He still can’t remember meeting you that time.”

“Not surprised,” Alicia says, remembering the first time she officially met Mikey, how his eyes were glassy and movements careful as he climbed into the van they were sharing. “Did you have fun today?”

Pete peers through his bangs, as if ensuring Alicia isn’t setting traps with her question. Hell, maybe she is, poking at things that don’t matter. But there’s something in the way Pete says Mikey’s name that makes Alicia want to know more.

“We walked around some,” Pete says. He’s still staring, but at Alicia’s encouraging sound he relaxes and adds, “Mostly between the buses, you know, because of the fans.”

Alicia does know. Even without being a name she feels uncomfortable sometimes, like the fans are watching and accessing her always. For Pete it has to be a thousand times worse. “You just talked?”

A hesitation, and there it is, that something that’s been hidden just under the surface. Pete brings his hand to his mouth, biting at the quick of his thumbnail and then says, “Yeah.”

Pete’s lied to Alicia before. Usually it’s about how he’s feeling, when it’s easier to pour out his emotions via lyrics and blog posts and leave verbalised words for avoidance. This feels different, like Pete’s actually unsure of what he’s saying himself.

“If...” Alicia swallows, tells herself to keep going. “If you did more it’s okay, you can tell me.”

Pete’s whole body stiffens and he inches away. “You’re breaking up with me?”

“What? No.” It’s a huge jump in reasoning and the last thing Alicia intended.

Pete grins, wide and fierce and baring his teeth. “I’m always happy.”

Alica touches the corner of his mouth, her fingertip over stretched skin. “No, you’re really not.”

~~~~~~

And the thing is.

Looking back Alicia told him to go. She gave her permission by doing nothing, and was left with nothing in return. Not that Pete came out and said it. He didn’t need to. More time between texts, fewer meetings, it left Alicia sidelined and watching her boyfriend fall in love via the sharing of words.

And not even words private to her.

~*~*~*~

It’s been over a week since Alicia saw Pete in person, and now after an unexpected phone-call, he’s minutes away and about to drop by.

Alicia looks around her apartment, taking in the after-tour disarray that she’s still not on top of. Gathering clothes she throws them into the bathroom, hoodies and t-shirts landing on still unpacked bags. She stops a moment to splash cold water onto her face, breath catching and drips rolling down to her neck. It’ll do, it’ll have to, and it’s not like Pete hasn’t seen her unwashed and exhausted before.

Even so, when she hears the knock it takes her a moment to answer, Alicia unsure what to do or to say. Officially they’re still together, but unofficially she suspects that it’s over, and that Pete’s here to admit that.

“Alicia, hi.”

Pete looks good, happy and relaxed in a way that makes Alicia want to smile in response -- but she can’t.

“I brought Mikey, I hope that’s okay,” Pete says. He’s reaching for Alicia, pulling her in for a hug, and it’s only when she’s clung on for almost a minute she realises Pete’s holding Mikey’s hand too.

It’s like being drenched in cold water, and she takes an abrupt step back, as Mikey says blankly, “Told you.”

“You said it was okay.” Pete drops Mikey’s hand and makes an aborted move toward Alicia, looking between her and Mikey. “I thought....”

“Not here.” Alicia’s tired and she’s not about to attempt to untangle this mess while in public. “Come in.”

Instantly Pete follows, Mikey a few steps behind. When they’re inside Alicia shuts the door and heads for the kitchen, hiding emotion behind being a good host.

Pete’s wandering the apartment. He stops in front of a shelf that’s crowded with photos in frames, and picks up the one in the middle, examining the picture of the two of them taken at the height of last summer.

It’s one of Alicia’s favourites, one where they’re both so obviously happy, heads together and smiling, eyes squinted against the sun. Chest tight, she concentrates on gathering mugs and starting coffee, all the time aware of how Pete keeps restlessly pacing, and how Mikey hasn’t moved from his spot.

“I remember this day,” Pete says, and stops next to Mikey, tilting his hand to show off the photo. “We’d borrowed a car and gone off alone. We almost knocked over a cow.”

“You nearly knocked over a cow,” Alicia corrects, and remembers relentless heat, loud music and fields scorched brown by the sun. “I told you not to turn down that lane.”

“He never listens.” Mikey’s examining the photo, head bent and glasses slipping to the end of his nose. When he looks up he pushes them back with one finger and says, “Last week he ate a handful of raw chillies. I thought his eyes were going to pop out.”

“It was a dare,” Pete says, as if that makes a big difference. “I said I could eat them.”

Alicia stares, says simply, “I bet those burned coming out.”

“Andy banned him from the bus, cited air pollution reasons.” Mikey’s trying not to laugh, Alicia can see it in the way his mouth twitches and his eyes sparkle: and she should hate him. For being so familiar with Pete and his band, for being here at all -- but somehow she can’t.

“He climbed a tree once and managed to get stuck.” Alicia glances at Pete, ensuring he’s okay with her telling the story. At his pleased look she says, “I was going to go get a ladder, but the bird got there first. It thought he was a branch and Pete got such a shock he fell out of the tree.”

“Because it had scaled talons and beady red eyes,” Pete says, exaggerating the story the way he always does. “It wanted to kill me. I had to scare it away.”

Alicia gives him a look. “Well you did that with your screaming, and talons? Really?”

“Scaled ones,” Pete repeats, and at Alicia’s arched eyebrow he laughs, says, “Don’t be like that, you know that you love me.”

And that’s the thing. No matter how much she wants to deny it, to both Pete and herself. Alicia does love him, and she says quietly, “Yeah. Yeah I do.”

“This isn’t right.” It’s Mikey who breaks the resulting awkward silence. Any humour wiped away, he takes a step toward the door, says, “I’m sorry,” to Alicia and then, “I’m going back to the hotel.”

“Don’t.” Pete seems torn, looking between Mikey and Alicia once again. “This can work. I know that it can. You like her, I love her and love you. I know she likes you.”

The words click into place, and suddenly, Alicia knows exactly what this is about. Relief, frustration and anger rushing over her at Pete being so very Pete. She wants to yell and demand to know what the fuck he was thinking, instead she says, “You’re a fucking idiot.”

“Sorry,” Pete drops his head, retreating emotionally the way he does always, when he’s watched yet another want be snatched from his grasp. It’s something Alicia hates to see, but she can’t let this go without censor, because Pete’s approached this all wrong.

“I thought you’d broken up with me. You haven’t seen me since the last day of tour.”

“I texted. I emailed,” Pete says, and while that’s true, it’s not enough. It can’t be.

Alicia lines up the mugs, turns them so the handles are pointed together. “I wanted to see you. In person.”

Pete’s still gripping the photo, knuckles white against the dark frame. “I was busy, I went home, I was with....”

“Mikey, I know.” Alicia's known Pete a long time, and has liked and then loved him for almost as long. She’s dealt with his obsessions before, for activities and people, and if this one goes deeper, that’s okay. It helps that she likes Mikey a lot, something they’ve talked about and that Pete’s well aware of.

“Um, I really am going.” Mikey takes another step to the door, and Pete makes no attempt to stop him.

“Don’t,” Alicia says, her head starting to clear for the first time in days. “Go sit, we’ll order pizza, drink coffee and sort this thing out.”

Pete looks up, hopeful as he says, “You’re not throwing me away?”

Alicia takes note of the phrasing, looks past Pete to Mikey who so obviously wants to approach him. “No, I’m not. Now go sit down with Mikey and order the pizza, you’re paying.”

Pete doesn’t smile, but he does relax, tension bleeding away as he waits for Mikey to sit on the sofa, and then takes the adjacent seat, crowding Mikey’s space.

Alicia stays where she is, but can’t look away. Pete’s hand on Mikey’s thigh, their feet together, how when Mikey catches her looking his mouth curls up into a smile.

Alicia smiles in response. This could be a mistake and she’s all too aware she’s throwing herself into a situation that’s unknown -- but it’s also a one that attracts her, a lot.

Mugs filled, Alicia goes to sit down.

~~~~~~~~

It wasn’t easy at first.

There’s no way Alicia can deny that. Three sets of emotions, three sets of responsibilities, three lives that are similar in some ways but in others not in the slightest.

It’s like juggling with fire. Hot, compelling and always that hint of danger, that if things go wrong they’ll do so big time, and all three will get burnt.

But somehow they don’t. Somehow they work.

~*~*~*~

“We should hold a party.” Pete’s half lying on Alicia, his head on her chest, wedged close by Mikey who’s dozing behind him. “We could use your apartment.”

“This place is tiny,” Alicia points out. She loves her apartment, but even with three it sometimes feels crowded. “Mikey’s too, it’ll have to be your house.”

Pete frowns, says, “It’ll have to be cleaned. We haven’t been for a while.”

Mikey pushes himself up on one elbow, emerging from under the duvet that he’s pulled to his side of the bed. Yawning, he says, “It’s a ‘just because’ party?”

“Sort of.” Pete’s got his hand on Alicia’s side, his thumb against the crease of her leg. “I was thinking we could announce our relationship and make it official.”

“I think everyone important already knows.” Not that it’s a bad idea, there’s something that feels right about people knowing for certain, and Alicia starts thinking guest lists, and introducing her family to Mikey and Pete. “My grandma did want to meet my gentlemen suitors.”

Mikey drops down, his chin propped against Pete’s shoulder. “Was she talking about us?”

“I’m not dating anyone else,” Alicia says, looking over at Mikey. Overnight his eyeliner has run, scattered black specks on his cheek bones and clumped black in the corner of each eye. Alicia smiles, glad yet again he’s become part of her life, “She’ll love you both.”

“She’ll be the guest of honour, I’ll fly her in first class,” Pete says, making a move as if he’s about to reach for his phone that’s next to the bed.

Alicia puts her arm over Pete’s, holding him still. “She’ll like you without that. She knows that I love you, both of you.”

“So I guess we’re having a party,” Mikey says, rolling so he can rest his leg over Pete’s. “Does that mean we’re a thing now?”

Truthfully they’ve been a thing for a while, it’s just now they’re starting to admit that in words. It makes Alicia want to kick her feet and grin like she’s crazy, but all she says is, “If by a thing you mean two rock stars shacking up with an awesome bass tech slash fill-in-bassist, yeah we’re a thing.”

Uncaring that he’s squashing Pete, Mikey shifts closer to Alicia, brushing a kiss to the end of her nose. “You got most of that right, but I’m no rock star.”

“Bullshit you’re not,” Alicia says. “But okay, if you don’t like that description what are we?”

Mikey thinks for a moment. “It’s Pete that likes words.”

It’s a deflection, but as it’s one that’s also actually true, Alicia says, “Pete?”

“We’re bodacious, breath-taking, bad-ass bassists,” Pete says instantly, relaxed and at ease where he’s still squashed between them. “We’re also AliciaMikeyandPete.”

And as descriptions go, that’s perfect.

~~~~~~

The problem is.

Things can’t stay perfect. That’s impossible, but Alicia never imagined they’d go from good to so bad in such a short space of time.

Not that there weren’t hints. Of course they were. Alicia’s been around musicians for most of her adult life, and has seen plenty hurtle off the rails.

It’s just. When a situation is so close you tend to miss the big picture.

And when you do that. Well, you risk losing it all.

~*~*~*~

“They won’t let me see him.” Alicia’s curled up on the hotel room floor, her back against the wall. She clutches her phone tight, keeping it jammed between her shoulder and ear. At least that way her hand will stop shaking. “I asked again and she said no.”

It’s been two days since Mikey left the Paramour, and all Alicia can do is stay close and keep waiting. Stacy keeps saying that Mikey’s not ready for visitors, that he doesn’t even want Gerard right now, and Alicia’s trying to understand that, she is, but it’s driving her crazy.

Alicia wants Mikey, she wants Pete, she wants someone to come hold her and say things will be fine -- she doesn’t even care if they’re lying.

“I’ve booked a flight for tomorrow, I’ll be there soon,” Pete says and his voice sounds tinny, like he’s much further than Texas. “I’ll be able to stay for most of the day.”

It’s not enough, but it’s more than Alicia expected, when Pete’s so close to the end of a tour. She shivers, cold despite her hoodie and sweater. “You can help me break him out. We’ll take him away and keep him safe.”

Alicia expects Pete to agree, to play along with the fantasy of rescue, of getting Mikey back to where he belongs. Pete doesn’t. There’s a long silence, dead air and then the sound of Pete breathing. Finally, he says, “Mikey’s where he needs to be right now.”

“No he’s not.” Alicia’s throat is tight and she hates Pete for saying something that’s plainly not true. “He needs to be with me. With us.”

“No, he...” Pete’s voice catches and he tries again. “Sometimes when you’re feeling your worst you need to be away from the people who love you the most.”

“That doesn’t make sense.” Alicia’s head is aching and her eyes are sore. She rubs them with the back of her hand, and tries to understand what Pete’s actually saying. “We love him.”

“Yeah, we do,” Pete agrees and there’s the sound of him walking, a door thudding closed. “We love him, his family loves him, his band loves him, and we’re not what he needs right now.”

Alicia’s wipes at her face but she’s not crying. She’s not, she’s staying strong for Mikey, has been since taking the phonecall from Frank, his fear bleeding through words of reassurance. “This fucking sucks.”

“Yeah it does.” The sound of a door opening, faint chanting behind the shout of someone saying, ‘ten minutes’. Pete pulls in a breath, says, “I have to go.”

“I know,” Alicia says, and then, “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” A pause, and Alicia waits, knowing what’s coming. “And Mikey loves you, three.”

“Three’s always better,” Alicia says, taking her cue. And it is, they’ve learned that together. “You should go. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

It’s Alicia that ends the call. Fingers aching as she drops her arm and switches calling for text, quickly sending out an We love you to Mikey.

She doesn’t expect a reply, which is fine, he’ll reply when he’s ready.

Alicia keeps telling herself that as she stands, her legs cramped and still cold. Climbing in bed she pulls up the covers, eyes wide open and staring at the generic art on the wall.

If she studies that she doesn’t have to think, and be reminded that even if she loves and is loved by two men, right now she’s got neither.

~~~~~~

When she was small Alicia made plans for her wedding

A long white dress and an armful of flowers. Walking down the aisle to meet her prince charming. She was going to be a princess, loved and adored from all sides.

And she was. Just not in the way she’d ever imagined. A black dress, Mikey wearing his stage clothes, as James married them backstage. For them it was perfect except for one thing.

Where there should have been three there was two.

Just Alicia and Mikey -- no Pete.

~*~*~*~

“You did it!” Alicia barely gets a step through the door when Pete’s running forward, scooping her up in his arms. Spinning her around he laughs, loud and bright in her ear. “You went and got married.”

“You said that we should.” Mikey’s carrying their bags, and he drops them when Pete changes direction, sending himself and Alicia flying into Mikey so they end up in a heap on the floor.

Pete’s sprawled on top of them both, his elbow planted in Alicia’s ribs. She feels grimy and tired from the journey but makes no attempt to move, none of them do, time and circumstance having kept them apart for too long.

“We’ve missed you,” Alicia says. She rests her hand on the small of Pete’s back, keeping him close as they kiss. Closed-mouthed and gentle right now, more a reconnection that’s weeks overdue.

Alicia breaks off the kiss, lies still as she watches Pete move his attention to Mikey. It’s something she’s missed like crazy, the warm feeling inside as she watches them fall for each other all over again. Pete’s hand cupping Mikey’s cheek, their eyes closed and foreheads touching when the kiss finally ends.

“I thought we’d order in, but I’ve made coffee.” Finally Pete moves, standing and untangling himself from the straps of a bag that’s wrapped round his foot. “Unless you want to sleep now?”

Alicia stands too, holding out her hand along with Pete. Together they pull Mikey to his feet and it feels natural to slip their arms around him, so they’re standing in a close group.

“Sleep later, I need to phone Gee, tell him we’re home,” Mikey says, smiling when he hears a bark from behind a closed door. “And I need to see the menagerie”

“I’ve already fed them, so don’t let them fool you,” Pete says, as Mikey slips from between them and opens the door to the kitchen. Instantly he’s surrounded by their pets, Piggy and Hemmy circling his feet while Bunny and Snowball design to sit close, their backs pointedly directed at Mikey.

Mikey drops to his knees, laughing when he’s instantly lick-attacked by both dogs.

Pete’s watching, and says, “He looks happy.”

“He is.” Alicia curls her fingers around Pete’s, holding on as they step past Mikey and into the kitchen. It’s a room Alicia loves, the walls bright and filled with pictures they’ve collected over the years -- prints next to art work created by Gerard and photos of Mikey, Alicia and Pete, complete with their family and friends.

There’s also a display of flowers displayed on the end of the counter, a shiny yellow balloon saying Congratulations attached in the middle.

Alicia squeezes Pete’s hand, says, “They’re beautiful.”

“I wanted to come.” Pete’s staring at Alicia, as if wiling her to believe what he’s saying. “I tried.”

Alicia knows, but Australia was too far and things happened so fast. It’s the only regret Alicia has about her marriage and she says, “You should have been there, we wanted to marry you, too.”

“You couldn’t,” Pete says simply. “But you could marry Mikey.”

It’s not the first time Alicia’s been suspicious about timing, about how enthusiastically Pete talked about marriage when they first found out James was licensed to do so. But it’s the first time they’ve been face to face since it happened, and Alicia wants to grab hold of Pete and shake him for answers -- ones she suspects she already knows.

“You’re an idiot sometimes.” Alicia gives into impulse, not shaking but holding on and listening to Pete breathe as she realises he’s sacrificed himself once again. “We love you, we don’t need marriage to prove that.”

“Mikey did,” Pete says, relaxing into the hug. “He needs stability, to know you’re there always, and I can’t marry him and announce it to the world. I wish that I could.”

“You’re still married to us, official or not,” Alica says, and she just hopes Pete believes it.

~~~~~~

She should have known better.

That’s the thing. Alicia’s known Pete for years now and yet she still managed to get played. Not in a bad way, Pete never set out to hurt either Mikey or Alicia, but it seemed that hurting himself was fair game.

Even if Alicia was distracted she should have seen. She should have felt that as much as he tried to hold on, Pete was drifting away.

She should have seen. But she hadn’t.

~*~*~*~

Ashlee’s nice, Alicia can’t deny that -- but while in theory she’s fine with them sharing, the reality is, it’s not working at all.

Alicia can’t blame her, not when she’s trying so hard. They’ve double dated a few times, invited Ashlee into their home with hopeful thoughts that if three is good, maybe four is even better?

It’s not. Not with Ashlee at least. As hard as she does try, it’s obvious she only wants Pete, and Pete’s turning more to her in return. They’re losing him, and Alicia has no idea how to stop it. Not when she’s travelling with Mikey and it’s always Pete who’s alone.

It’s not fair, and Alicia want to yell at Pete and tell him they love him. That he’s part of their lives and he’s not allowed to go now -- but she’s left it too late.

“Ashlee’s pregnant,” Pete says, and his joy in that statement is enough that Alicia instantly knows they’ve lost him for good. “I’m going to be a dad.”

“A fucking amazing dad,” Mikey says. Grinning wide, he grabs hold of Pete, hugging him hard. “The best dad ever.”

Alicia’s chest hurts and her eyes prickle, jealousy and heart-break a tight knot. This is something they’ve discussed in the past, and each time they’ve agreed that waiting is best, when both Mikey and Pete juggle medication and fears that cling always.

Now Pete’s shattered that plan, and all Alicia can do is step to one side, love him enough to let him go off on his own.

“You’d better make us god parents,” Alicia says, and pushes herself into the hug. They let her in easily, like they’ve done always, three bound into a unit of one. “And look after Ashlee, rub her feet sometimes.”

Pete laughs, smiles warring with uncertainty as he pulls back, still touching but not clinging so close. “I will. I love her.... she’s having my baby. I can’t. I mean.....”

“It’s okay, we know.” It’s Mikey that speaks, saying the words that Alicia physically can’t say. “You need to be with her now. But we love you, and this will always be your home, too.”

“I love you, three,” Pete says, and makes no attempt to move.

None of them do.

~~~~~~

And for a long time it was good.

That’s the thing that helped ease bone deep hurts. They still saw Pete often, on nights out and play dates with the dogs. They supported him as friends always, through a wedding and the birth of his son and saw he was happy as a husband and dad.

They saw he loved deeply and was loved in return.

They saw he was happy with Ashlee, until things changed and he wasn’t happy at all.

~*~*~*~*~

“They’ve made it official.” Alicia sits curled in the corner of the sofa, laptop on her knee and Piglet lying close by her side. “We need to call him.”

“It’s too soon,” Mikey says and glances at his phone which he’s just started charging close by. All afternoon Mikey’s been taking and making phone calls, networking to find out how Pete really is doing. The news he’s getting in return isn’t good, each talk with Pete’s trusted friends causing Mikey to tense even more. “He’s with Gabe now, he said that he’s watching Pete to makes sure he’s okay.”

“Good.” Alicia’s relieved, as reckless as Gabe can be, she trusts him with Pete. Still, that doesn’t mean she’s going to give up. “I’m going to text again, remind him we’re here.”

Mikey sits and stretches his legs along the sofa, causing Piglet to sigh as she’s forced to move a few inches. “Tell him it’s time to stop hiding.”

Alicia picks up her phone and sends out the text, says, “Done.”

~~~~~

Pete replies within hours, but he says nothing important. That he’s been busy, that he’s travelling with Gabe, that he’s fine.

They’re the kind of responses Mikey and Alicia get for weeks, and as hard as it is, they know they have to let Pete come back in his own time. Then suddenly there are no replies at all.

Frantic, Mikey keeps calling as Alicia packs a bag. This has gone on too long now, and if Pete won’t come to them, well it’s time they went and found him.

Which is when there’s a knock at the door.

It’s Mikey that answers, Alicia busy pulling clothes from out of the closet. When she hears Mikey say, “Pete,” she drops the pile of t-shirts and runs for the stairs.

Pete’s standing in the doorway, a bag in his hand and looking almost dead on his feet. Alica wants to run to him, haul him inside and lock every door. She doesn’t. Pete so skittish right now that the wrong move could end in disaster.

“I wasn’t hiding,” Pete says. He’s making no attempt to move, just stands still and waits, as if expecting to be told to leave any moment. “I needed time away.”

Mikey takes a small step forward, says, “I get that.”

“Yeah. Yeah you would.” Pete looks down, the shadows under his eyes darkening, livid like black bruises. “I left.”

Alicia takes a place opposite Mikey, but leaves a space between them. “And now you’ve come back.”

A long pause, and Alicia’s sure that she’s blown this. That maybe Pete hasn’t come back at all. Until he looks up, and says, “If you want me.”

“Of course we want you,” Alicia says, and while those words are easy, she knows the reality won’t be at all. They’ve got too much to work through, things to sort out and deal with -- but they will, they’d do anything to show Pete that he’s loved. Alicia takes hold of Pete’s hand, waits until Mikey has hold of the other and simply says, “Welcome home.”