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For quite some time, Thomas views Beverley’s pregnancy as a lovely life event that has very little to do with him specifically. He’s happy for Peter and Beverley, he has a vague notion of serving as some sort of distant uncle-like figure for the child, extravagant presents at Christmases and birthdays, that sort of thing. It’s a role Thomas is familiar with, even if it’s one he hasn’t been called upon to perform for nearly a century.

It does get more...startling, the closer that Beverley gets to her due date. She and Peter still make a point of having Thomas over for dinner as a guest, have shown no signs of minding his occasional dropping by unannounced to leave a book or bring the food Molly insists on cooking for Beverley, and Thomas is always pleased to go, but he still feels the occasional surprised jolt, seeing the round curve of Beverley’s stomach, or sitting on the couch and watching as Peter performs such duties as “making the house child-proof”. When he contemplates it--aside from the practical matter of making sure the Folly runs smoothly during Peter’s upcoming paternity leave--Thomas will admit to the odd feeling of wistfulness, watching as Peter and Beverley approach parenthood. Not that Thomas has ever longed for that himself, not that he ever considered it to be much of a possibility to begin with. It’s just--something else that is changing around Thomas, while he stands still.

But whenever Thomas thinks this, he chides himself for self-pity and moves on--Thomas hasn’t stood still, not for years now, and he knows it. It’s the nature of everything to change, and this change is both planned for and welcome.

*

When Molly packs him off to Beverley and Peter’s home with a bag full of food and very strict instructions to come back with photos of the newborn Laura or not to come back at all, Thomas has a fairly good idea what to expect--a wild-eyed Peter operating on too little sleep, Beverley still drained from labour, and a tiny scrap of a baby that would doze or cry or look about in confusion, baffled at the new world she’d found herself in.

He’s looking forward to it, and at first it starts out exactly as he predicted: Peter looking both wild-eyed and pleased to see him, even as he cautions in a lowered voice, “Beverley’s a bit worn out, so I don’t know if--”

“Certainly,” Thomas says with a nod, pushing aside his own disappointment. He holds up the bag and explains, “Molly sent me over to bring you food, I don’t wish to disturb--”

But then he hears Beverley calling out to Peter to have him come in, and when Peter calls back, “Are you sure?” Thomas has to bite back a grin at Beverley’s sarcastic reply. “No, I’ve changed my mind, he’s got to go!”

Peter turns to Thomas, grinning a little sheepishly. “What Bev wants goes.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Thomas assures him, his lips twitching.

When he comes into the living room, Beverley’s lying on the couch, holding Laura in her arms. She looks exhausted but pleased to see Thomas, smiling as she says hello. Thomas greets her and explains the food, not that it needs much explaining--they all know how Molly is--but even as he’s speaking, he can’t seem to look away from the baby, that small brown head with nearly-invisible wisps of hair.

And then Beverley surprises him when she offers, “Here--would you like to hold her?”

“I--are you sure?” Thomas asks, surprised. He didn’t see the offer coming, although he can’t quite think why.

Beverley looks him over, considering, and then says, “Go on. Before she falls asleep all the way or wants feeding or her nappy changing or something else.”

Thomas will never admit it, and hopefully isn’t showing it, but he does feel a flutter of nerves as Beverley carefully places Laura in his arms. Somehow, he remembers how this should go--support the head, don’t hold too tight--and Beverley’s hands slip away, and before Thomas quite knows what he’s about, he’s holding Laura Thames Grant in his arms while she blinks up at him drowsily, her dark eyes huge in her tiny, wrinkled face.

For one brief moment, Thomas can’t remember how to breathe, looking at her. She’s just...she’s so small, blinking up at him in that solemn way that babies have, and her eyes are shaped like Beverley’s but her eyelashes curl up at the very ends just the way that Peter’s do, and she is absolutely brilliant, from the top of her bald head to her tiny perfect feet.

He’s vaguely aware of Beverley watching him, can hear Peter’s footsteps from behind where he’s coming back from the kitchen, but Thomas can’t tear his gaze away. “Hello there,” he says softly, letting his fingertip trail along Laura’s delicate cheek. He worries momentarily that his hands might be too cold, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

“Careful,” Peter says, but he sounds pleased instead of worried, so Thomas can’t be doing anything too wrong. “Look too much like you’re enjoying that and we might make you babysit.”

Thomas finally looks up at that, but both Beverley and Peter are watching him with approving smiles on their faces, so it couldn’t have been a joke. Still, he doesn’t want to presume, saying, “I doubt I’ll be allowed a look-in.”

Beverley gives him an amused look, lifting one dark eyebrow at him. “We’re considering all applications,” she assures him dryly.

Thomas is no longer surprised to find that he hopes she means it.

He ends up staying for an hour and fifteen minutes, which is an hour longer than Thomas expected to stay--and before he leaves, he makes sure to take a photograph on his mobile phone of Laura in Peter’s arms, sound asleep while Peter beams down at her, joy written in every line of his face. The photo is meant to be for Molly, but Thomas finds himself carefully saving it on his phone after emailing it to her.

Peter walks him out to the door at the end of the evening. “Don’t be a stranger,” he says, yawning behind his hand.

“I know this is perhaps futile, but do try to get some sleep,” Thomas says, watching Peter affectionately. “If only so you don’t end up walking into walls at some point.”

“That happened once,” Peter protests, but his indignation is undercut by the rueful smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

When Thomas drives off, he can see Peter in the rearview mirror watching him go, and Thomas can still feel the phantom weight of Laura in his arms, the weight of her head in the crook of his elbow.

*

Thomas truly did have the best of intentions when it came to giving Peter as much paternity leave as he could possibly arrange. He’s trying to give Peter as much flexibility as he can with his parental leave, and he truly has no intentions of dragging Peter back into work before he’s ready or of intruding on Peter and Beverley’s privacy.

Thomas lasts only two days before dropping by Peter and Beverley’s house again, using a book as a thin excuse. To be fair, Peter had mentioned wanting to take a closer look at de Bourgh’s work,even if that was five months ago.

And in his defense, Peter does like the book and ushers Thomas right into the living room without ever once hinting that Thomas has overstepped or isn’t welcome.

Beverley is in the living room again, feeding Laura, and she looks rather amused to see Thomas there, but not upset--or for that matter, all that surprised.

Thomas, feeling a bit abashed, holds up the volume of de Bourgh he'd brought with him. "I thought Peter might find this useful." Useful for what, Thomas is suddenly not sure, but he’s brought it anyway.

Beverley's mouth curves up into a smile. "Well, it'll probably help in putting Laura to sleep," she says. "Here, let me finish feeding her, and then we'll trade; I get the book, you get the kid."

"Sounds reasonable enough," Thomas says, pleased, while Peter says indignantly, "Wait, and when do I get a chance to read it?"

"You?" Beverley scoffs, moving Laura so that she's braced against Beverley's shoulder, as Beverley lightly taps her back. "I don't know when you think you're going to have time to be reading anything, let alone something in Latin."

Peter snorts, conceding the point. "Yeah, fair play."

Beverley's true to her word, and soon enough Thomas has an armful of tiny, sweet-smelling baby blinking up at him, her small hands curled up into fists. Thomas feels his face breaking into that helpless smile again, but he does a creditable job of contributing to the conversation, even if he can’t take his eyes off Laura’s drowsily frowning face as he discusses Annie's latest attempts at scindere and how they've resulted in bits of apple pulp gently floating about the lab in a circular motion.

But even as he's talking, Thomas notices the general disarray the room is in--blankets left about in crumpled heaps on furniture, used plates on the table left uncleared--it's completely understandable, given that Beverley and Peter brought Laura home from hospital less than a week ago, and Thomas is hardly about to judge. But it seems a shame, he suddenly thinks, to just drop off the book and look in on Laura without even offering to assist.

He's not quite sure how to word the offer, though, and then Fleet stops by unexpectedly to drop off baby clothes, giving him a bemused look as she sees him sitting on the couch holding Laura.

Peter, somehow, makes it both better and worse by blithely offering an explanation of, "We thought we'd put him to work while he was here," flashing a grin over at Thomas as he does.

"I wouldn't really call this work," Thomas has to say, adjusting Laura in his arms--she's fallen asleep, eyes squeezed shut.

Peter's grin only gets broader at that and he promises, "That's okay, we can fix that."

And that, in part, is how Thomas finds himself doing the dishes in Peter and Beverley's kitchen after Fleet’s left, scraping dried food off plates with a fork before letting them soak for a bit in the soapy water.

It's surprisingly pleasant, truth be told. For all that Molly jealously guards her kitchen at the Folly, Thomas has never minded domestic work in and of itself, and Peter and Beverley make a point of hanging about the kitchen while he does it, Peter idly ruminating on just how Annie got the apple pulp to float about the lab while Beverley sits in silence in her bathrobe, seemingly luxuriating in the peace and quiet of having Laura sleeping soundly in her crib--at least for the next few hours.

It's only once Thomas is nearly done with the dishes--only a couple of tea mugs and some cutlery left--that Beverley says, approvingly, "You can come over whenever you like."

Thomas glances at her over his shoulder, not wanting to acknowledge the warm glow in his stomach at her words, and says lightly, "That sounds like a dangerous offer." But even as he says it, Thomas knows that he's sure to end up taking Beverley at her word.

 

*

About two months after that, Peter’s returned to the Folly, and a day after his return is the day the Folly has its youngest visitor in God only knows how many decades.

Molly--mostly figuratively--pounces the second that Beverley comes through the door holding Laura in her arms. Laura peers around curiously, eyes wide beneath the fuzzy purple hat that Molly had knitted for her.

Molly quietly claps her hands in delight, but miraculously manages to refrain from snatching Laura up immediately--impressive restraint, considering the dirty looks she gives Thomas if he comes back from an evening with Peter and Beverley with any less than five new photos of Laura on his phone.

Beverley looks over at Thomas first, mouth twitching from laughter, but then she says to Molly, rather gently, “Do you want to hold her, then?”

Molly looks startled by the offer, looking from Beverley to Laura nervously. “Go on,” Beverley encourages. “She got used to Thomas, she can get used to you.”

Molly’s expression is both dubious and worried, but Beverley takes control in that matter-of-fact way of hers, shifting Laura’s weight as she gently places her daughter in Molly’s awkwardly held out arms, quietly coaching, “Just make sure to support the head, that’s it, there you are.”

Molly is clearly overwhelmed, staring down at Laura’s face with wide eyes, her lips tightly pressed together. Thomas hears footsteps behind him and sees Abigail, Annie, and Matt emerging from the direction of the labs, Peter and Mal following them.

Annie and Matt both immediately begin cooing over Laura, Mal and Abigail hanging back while looking pleased themselves, and meanwhile Peter grins as he greets Beverley hello with a kiss. "I see you've been upstaged," he teases gently, and Beverley just laughs.

"Eh, I'm used to it by now," she says. "I mean, who can pass up that face--or all that drooling?"

Peter looks at where Molly is resolutely ignoring all of Annie's hints that she'd love to take a turn holding the baby, and says, half-jokingly, "Uh, are we sure we're going to get our kid back by the end of the night?"

Beverley just scoffs. "You honestly think Molly's going to be changing nappies?"

"Fair play," Peter concedes.

"Besides, I know you've got lots of stuff stashed away in this place," Beverley continues, "--but I doubt you've got a crib."

"We could have one," Thomas says without thinking, and when Beverley and Peter look at him in confusion, he elaborates. "I mean--we could bring that in, if you liked. Just a few things that Laura would need if you're all spending the night here."

"Yeah," Peter says slowly, starting to smile, as if it's a thought that hadn't occurred to him before now. "No, that--that'd be nice."

Beverley is smiling as well, and Thomas exhales, and smiles back at them both. "Good."

 

*

Thomas isn’t quite sure of how it occurs, exactly, but even after Peter’s come back to working at the Folly, he still finds himself going over for dinner to Peter and Beverley’s several times a week, finds himself picking Laura up from Mrs. Grant’s flat and dropping her off at home only to have Beverley or Peter say, “Come on in, would you like some tea?” Or even having Laura be dropped off at the Folly for an afternoon so that Beverley could go in to her work, and that leads to Beverley, Laura and Peter all staying at the Folly for the night, joining everyone at the dinner table, setting out a soft blanket on the floor of one of the studies for Laura to lie on and practice rolling over while the three of them discuss their respective work days.

It all just--keeps happening, until it becomes expected, becomes normal. And Thomas braces himself for the inevitable push back, for Peter to turn to him and say lightly, “Oh, don’t worry, we’ve got this now, you don’t need to help.”

Except that doesn’t happen. It never happens. Instead, it’s Peter’s face lighting up with relief and pleasure when he realizes there’s a third set of hands to help with the cooking, or the dishes, or vacuuming the place up while he gives Laura a bath. It’s Beverley looking at Thomas steadily while she shows him how to swaddle Laura, telling him the brand of car seat they have so that Thomas can go and get another one to use in one of the Asbos, “--because I’ll tell you right now, it’s not going to work in the Jag.”

“No, that makes sense,” Thomas says, and only a little wistfully prepares himself for the apprentices’ requests to drive the Jag to only increase.

Peter grins at him like he knows what Thomas is thinking, and proves it when he says, “Don’t worry, I’ll get them all signed up for the advanced driving course.”

“That would be excellent, thank you,” Thomas says, and Laura gurgles in agreement from where she’s lying in Thomas’s arms, chewing meditatively on her own fist.

*

Generally speaking, Thomas doesn’t hear Peter curse very often. During moments of great stress or irritation, certainly, but it’s not a frequent thing. So when, in the middle of their phone call, Peter stops mid-sentence to say, “Oh, fuck me,” Thomas immediately asks, “What’s wrong?”

“The meeting with our contact, Eric, I just realized Laura’s got an appointment with the doctor today for the same time--shit, and it’s her 16-week vaccinations too--”

“Ah,” Thomas says, because he can grasp the rest of it--Beverley’s out on patrol for the first time since Laura was born, Peter’s mother is out visiting relatives in Bristol, and Eric, their fae contact, is just the sort of paranoid fan of spy films that means the only person he’ll speak to in person is Peter, who he distrusts just that much less than anyone else at the Folly.

“Why don’t I take Laura?” he offers. “I can swing round to your place, pick her up and take her to the appointment, you can go and talk to Eric.”

Peter pauses briefly. “Oh, yeah, that’s perfect,” he says in a tone of faint surprise, as if he’s surprised at himself for not thinking of it sooner. “Thanks,” he says absently, and it’s that total lack of surprise that Thomas would offer, that his help is not only wanted and needed, but expected--

It’s a good feeling. Nearly as good as picking Laura up from Peter and Beverley’s house, having her coo quietly to herself in her car seat as Thomas narrates the drive to her.

“It’s important to model conversations for her at this stage,” Beverley had mentioned a week ago during dinner. “At four months, she’s starting to pay attention to the sounds we make. Aren’t you, sweetheart,” she’d said to a softly babbling Laura, who’d looked up at the sound of her mother’s voice.

“Do you know,” Thomas says once Laura has gone quiet, “once you’re a bit older, I’ll be able to take you out in a proper vehicle.” Laura coos, and Thomas says in response, “Yes, I think the Jag is a good choice as well. Traditional, even.”

All things considered, Thomas is in a rather good mood when they get to the GP’s office.

It all goes downhill from there.

The trouble starts nearly right away, as he carries Laura in his arms to the front desk. There are a few other people there--a mother with a toddler, a father with a feverish-looking teenager next to him. Not everyone looks up when he and Laura come in, but the ones that do give him a second glance, foreheads creasing in momentary confusion.

Thomas doesn’t get it at first, not until he walks up to the front desk where the receptionist is, and says, “Hello, we’ve got an appointment for 2:30, for Laura Grant..”

The receptionist’s face, professionally friendly at first, starts to crease from confusion as she looks from him, then to Laura. “Of course, could you give me a moment?”

“Of course,” Thomas says, but whatever the receptionist finds on her computer screen only makes things worse, as she says, next, “And I’m sorry, but--could I get your name, sir?”

“Thomas Nightingale,” Thomas says, patiently. “I’m...a friend of the family, there was a conflict with the schedules and Peter--Laura’s father-- asked me to bring her in.”

“I see,” the receptionist--Marianne, it reads on her nametag--says, except in a tone where it’s very clear she doesn’t see, at all. “Sorry, sir, if you’ll just take a seat? We’ll be with you in just a moment.”

She directs him to a seat that’s close to the front desk, and picks up a phone, glancing at him the whole while. Thomas sets Laura in his lap, faintly bewildered--he’s almost certain that’s not how it’s supposed to go, and then one of the parents leans in over the armrest to say, nodding at Laura, “Oh, what a beautiful baby.”

“Thank you,” Thomas says, smiling--although God knows, he had nothing to do with it.

“So I suppose she’s adopted, then?” the woman asks, curiously, and Thomas looks at her, then at Laura, and then over to the receptionist, who is now--from what he can overhear--leaving a politely baffled message for Peter.

Oh, hell.

*

“You didn’t think to bring out your warrant card?” Peter asks him later that night.

“The entire thing was so strange, I wasn’t sure if that would help or just make things worse,” Thomas says, exasperated all over again at the memory. “Besides, I shouldn’t have had to in the first place. Whoever heard of kidnapping a baby, or whatever they thought I was doing, and having your first stop be a GP’s office for vaccinations? It was just absurd.”

He’s rather snappish, and Peter raises his eyebrows at him. “What, you didn’t enjoy being profiled?”

He says it like it’s a joke, but there’s something underneath it too, something Thomas might not have been able to notice years ago, but that he can hear clear as a bell now. “That’s not it,” Thomas says, because he has enough sense to realize that a receptionist giving him odd looks is not nearly the same thing as Peter being pulled over on multiple occasions for simply driving the Jag or the Ferrari--or any car, really--in public. “I mean, it didn’t help, but…” He trails off, and reaches out to touch Laura’s arm from where she’s dozing on the blanket, the arm with the neon-green bandage on it. “That wasn’t the worst part.”

Peter’s quiet for a moment, and then confesses gently, “When we took Laura in for her first set of vaccinations, I felt awful.”

Thomas looks up at this, and Peter is giving him a crooked, rueful smile. Thomas can feel his stomach flip at the sight, but still listens carefully as Peter continues, “It’s not like Bev and I are suddenly going to go out and become anti-vaxxers or anything--”

“Good,” Thomas says firmly, and Peter flashes him a brief grin.

“--but it was still hard, hearing her cry like that for the first time. Every time, really.” Peter’s eyes have gone soft as he looks down at Laura, lightly placing her hand on her round little belly, and she burbles up at him, her dark eyes wide in her small, perfect face.

“Yes,” Thomas says softly, remembering Laura’s wails in the GP’s office, trying to soothe her and failing, Laura sobbing even as she’d fretfully turned her face into Thomas’s shoulder for comfort.

“So, you know--welcome to the club,” Peter says, nudging Thomas with an elbow. “Membership dues are paid at the first of the month.”

Thomas looks at Peter, mouth twitching, but he keeps his voice solemn as he asks, “And just what are the membership dues?”

Peter’s grin is wide and brilliant, inviting Thomas in on the joke. “I’m so happy you asked.”

When Beverley comes home about an hour later, Thomas is folding the first load of laundry in the living room while Peter gives Laura her bedtime bath.

Instead of looking surprised or confused, Beverley smiles. “Oh good, the laundry’s getting done and I don’t have to do it.”

“You do the laundry?” Thomas teases, a little daringly. He’s rewarded when Beverley just gives him a sharp, delighted grin, saying next, “Of course not! I always just let Peter do it, but this time I don’t have to avoid his meaningful looks as he does the laundry.”

She collapses down next to him on the couch, pleased, and Thomas looks her over and asks mildly, “Sometimes I wonder just what this house looked like before Peter moved in.”

Beverley snorted. “I still maintain my old system was a perfectly valid way of doing things.” At Thomas’ skeptical look, Beverley shrugs and says, “Before Peter moved in, I would just take the clothes out of the dryer and shove them in the clean laundry basket until they were worn and dirty, and then I tossed them in the other basket I kept specifically for dirty clothes. Folding laundry is just a waste of time, really.”

Thomas honestly cannot tell what expression he has on his face in response to that, but Beverley just grins and gives him a showy wink, and Thomas breaks down and laughs at the sheer ridiculousness of this conversation. When he looks back at her, Beverley looks so honestly pleased with herself for making him laugh that it only makes Thomas laugh harder.

It’s a good evening, and Thomas is sorry at the end of it when he wearily lifts his head off the couch and says, “I should get back, it’s getting late.”

But Peter and Beverley just stare at him, baffled. Wrinkling his nose, Peter says slowly, as though his response is so obvious it doesn’t need to be said aloud, “Or you could stay here instead of trying to drive back to the Folly when you’re half asleep and not fit to drive?”

Thomas can’t hide his surprise at this, and Beverley scoffs, gesturing wildly in the direction of the stairs. “What’s the point of setting up a spare bedroom if no one uses it?”

“Well,” Thomas says, biting back a smile, “--we wouldn’t want to see the spare bedroom go to waste.”

*

Thomas sleeps lightly that night, which is how he hears Laura’s restless crying. He blearily drags himself out of bed, shuffling towards the nursery.

Laura is whimpering in her crib, the kind of soft cries that promise to only escalate, and Thomas rubs at his eyes. “Shh,” he says softly, gently picking her up. “Ssh, it’s all perfectly fine.”

It doesn’t take long for him to diagnose the problem as a dirty nappy, and he changes her mostly on autopilot, grateful for Peter’s lessons the entire time. Once Laura’s settled in a clean nappy, Thomas finds himself in the rocking chair, soothing Laura back to sleep.

Laura’s mostly dropped off by the time Thomas becomes aware of Peter hovering in the open doorway, watching them silently. When Thomas looks over at him, he can’t quite see Peter’s expression in the dim lighting--the only real light is coming from Laura’s nightlight in the corner--but he knows the look on Peter’s face anyway.

“Just wanted to check on you both,” Peter says, his voice rough from sleep. But instead of wandering back off to bed, Peter approaches them, his bare chest outlined in the dim light, and braces himself on Thomas’s shoulder, his grip firm and warm through the thin layer of Thomas’ undershirt, as he leans in and Thomas holds his breath--

But Peter’s only leaning down to softly kiss his sleeping daughter’s forehead, that’s all, and yet that’s not all, because Thomas can feel the warmth of his body, the imprint of Peter’s hand on his shoulder as he leaned his weight on Thomas for just that one moment--

And then Peter is straightening up, is pulling away, except not far enough, as he says quietly in Thomas’ ear, “Thanks for seeing to her,” before wandering back off, back to the quiet of his and Beverley’s bedroom.

Once the door gently clicks shut behind him, Thomas exhales slowly and looks down at Laura’s sleeping face until he can feel his heartbeat slowing back down to a normal rate once more.

*

Wanting Peter in that way is hardly a new state of affairs. Thomas has wanted him for longer than he cares to think about, for longer than he would ever admit to--not that there is anyone who he could admit this to.

It’s the sort of thing that Thomas has made his peace with, the sort of thing that has eventually settled, quietened down from that shameful, tightly-held desire when Peter was his apprentice, to something not nearly as fraught, but still as deep and strong as it always has been.

It doesn't matter, of course, not in the larger scheme of things, not weighed against their friendship or Peter's marriage to Beverley, or Thomas's own deeply held affection for Beverley and now for Laura.

But it's still there, all the same, occasionally rising back up to the surface to leave Thomas breathless, shaken from the force of it.

And now here Thomas is, in Peter and Beverley's house more nights than not, with a change of clothes he keeps in the dresser, on the regular rota for picking and dropping Laura off when needed, his own spot on their couch and his own bed in their home and it's wonderful, Thomas wouldn't give it up for anything, but--it's certainly unusual. Thomas doesn't need to see Abigail's curious looks when Thomas leaves the Folly for the night to know that.

But even if it's fairly unusual, Thomas knows that if he were to become unwelcome, or if his presence was no longer needed, he would know. Peter would give a gentle hint, Beverley would outright tell him, and they haven't, so it's all right. It's all right for Thomas to stay here, to find his own quiet spot in this house, in their lives, for as long as he's needed.

*

It’s Thursday, and it’s Thomas’s turn to pick Laura up from Mrs. Grant’s flat. By this point, he’s been there often enough that he hardly gets any second glances from the other residents as he makes his way up to her door, knocking only the once before Mrs. Grant answers.

“Thomas,” she says, looking pleased. “Right on time as always.”

“Hello, Rose,” Thomas says, smiling; he can hear Laura babbling from inside the flat. “How was she today?”

“Oh, perfect,” Mrs. Grant says as she steps aside to let Thomas in. “Went down for her nap easily, it’s always nice when they’re at that stage.”

Laura’s already settled in her stroller, still babbling away, and Thomas smiles down at her; it’s only when he looks up that he realizes Mrs. Grant is still watching him.

“It’s good of you to always be helping Peter and Beverley like this,” she says.

There’s nothing unusual in the way she says it, but something in the assessing look she’s giving him makes Thomas want to glance away. “It’s not a hardship,” he says instead.

“Hmm,” Mrs. Grant says, and smiles faintly. “Well, they’re lucky to have you around.”

That’s all she says, but the way she looks at Thomas makes it clear she could say more, if she chose. “Thank you,” Thomas says, but he can feel his cheeks flushing as he says it.

In the car, Thomas gets a call from Peter. “So,” Peter opens with, “--remember how we thought we had one poltergeist to deal with?”

“Yes,” Thomas says, slowly.

“We’ve actually got five,” Peter says.

“That’s nearly a record,” Thomas says, thoughtful, and Peter splutters on the other end.

“Wait, where did you get more--no, never mind, I’ve got a frantic landlord and tenants behind me about to have hysterics. Just wanted to let you know I’d be home later, but Bev’s already there, so just go ahead and have dinner without me.” He pauses and adds, “Okay, so Bev might just try and order takeaway, but we’ve already done that twice--”

Which just meant that when Bev answers the door, Thomas knows to offer, “I thought I’d stay and cook dinner, if you like?”

Bev quirks an eyebrow at him, but lets him in, saying as she picks up Laura from the stroller, “You know, you can just use that key Peter gave you, you don’t have to keep using the doorbell.”

Thomas bites back the reflexive I don’t want to presume because, well, Peter and Beverley have been telling him over and over again, in actions and in words, that they want him to presume. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he says instead, lightly, and asks, “Anything you’d like for dinner?”

“Pasta?” Beverley asks hopefully. Thomas sets to work putting together a quick dish he’s seen Peter make several times now, while Beverley carefully spoons rice cereal into Laura’s mouth, chatting the whole while about her day out on patrol with Rom, her afternoon at the goblin market and the latest gossip floating among the demi-monde.

Thomas glances behind him, once, and sees Laura smiling toothlessly at her mother, rice cereal smeared all over her round face, and Beverley grinning back, laughing softly, and Thomas wishes that his phone was in hand so he could take a photograph, despite having seen this sight countless times before.

He idly mentions it later, when Laura’s been put to bed, dinner’s been eaten, and he and Beverley have settled themselves on the couch with the BBC on the television, volume turned down low so that they can hear on the baby monitor if Laura starts to fuss. “I should’ve taken a photo of you earlier with Laura, Peter would’ve liked it.”

Beverley hums in response, saying, “Peter likes all the photos you send him.” As Thomas tries not to smile at that, Beverley adds, “He keeps trying to figure out if you’ve got more saved on your phone that you’re not sharing.”

That somehow leads to Thomas handing his phone over to Beverley and telling her the passcode, and she eagerly thumbs through the photos, cooing over Laura’s face and laughing over the ones that are blurry or off-center, or the (very few) that have Thomas’s thumb in the way.

“Okay, but hang on,” Beverley says at last, looking up from Thomas’s phone, “--how do you have this many photos of Laura saved, but don’t have a single one of yourself?”

Thomas blinks at this. “But why would I have one of myself?”

Beverley stares at him. “Oh, Thomas,” she groans, and before Thomas quite realizes what’s happening, she’s telling him to lean back against the couch cushions, holding up his phone, and snapping a photograph.

Once the flash has gone off, Beverley looks the photo over, then groans again. “Ugh. Of course you’re ridiculously photogenic too.”

She hands the phone back to Thomas for him to look it over. Thomas can’t see what Beverley’s talking about, personally; he looks perfectly ordinary, if perhaps a bit disheveled, eyebrows quirked upwards, his mouth caught in a half-smile.

It’s not bad, honestly. “I’ve fallen out of the habit,” Thomas admits, then frowns, thinking it over. “I don’t think I’ve had my photograph taken since the war, actually.”

Beverley looks at him, but instead of going quiet or showing too much of an eager interest, she just asks, “Who took the photographs?”

“Oh, um--Bertie Pengrave. Fellow a year behind me at Casterbrook. Terribly dim, but he had a gift for photography, was forever taking snaps, even when we were caked in mud and soaked through from rain--” Thomas shuts his mouth on the rest, and says after a second, “I think Postmartin still has the negatives, you could tell Peter about it.”

“Or you could tell him,” Beverley says casually, no hint of rebuke in her voice, which makes it easier to consider. “And even so, now you’ve got this at least.” She taps his phone’s screen with her fingernail and says, smiling, “No erasing that one either.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Thomas promises her.

*

“Will we see you at the Folly tonight, sir?” Annie asks him as they exit the antique shop, slightly magical artifacts in Annie and Matt’s arms.

Thomas had been checking his watch--he’ll have to leave for Mrs. Grant’s flat now, if he wants to get there on time, and he startles at the question. “Oh, um--possibly, I’m picking up Laura from her grandmother’s.”

“Okay,” is all that Annie says, but Thomas isn’t blind enough to miss the glance she gives Matt, or the deliberately blank way that Matt is refusing to look anyone in the face.

But there isn’t much of anything else to say, and truthfully, Thomas doesn’t want to say anything, so he helps them pack the Asbo and gives them strict instructions about where to store the books for Postmartin to pick up later this week, and then goes off in his car to the Peckwater estate, where Mrs. Grant and Laura are waiting for him.

He truly does have every intention of heading back to the Folly once he’s dropped Laura off, with that unintentional reminder Annie had given him, except Peter waves him in with the promise of dinner, and it turns out he’s planning on making lasagna, and has a bottle of red wine tucked away, and really--why on earth would Thomas turn any of that down?

Dinner is delicious, and the wine is good enough that Thomas says yes to a second glass, sipping it on the couch while Peter dangles a set of giant plastic keys in front of Laura’s riveted face and then plays a round of peekaboo, first with the keys hidden under the blanket, then with his own face, making increasingly ridiculous faces while Laura chortles in delight.

“Careful, your face’ll get stuck like that,” Thomas teases, and Peter just laughs and turns to wink at Thomas over his shoulder.

By the time Laura’s been given her bath and settled in for the night, Thomas means to leave but Peter draws him into a discussion of future lesson plans, the two of them stretched out on the sofa, TV on mute, as they idly debate.

“Beverley’s trip out to Father Thames reminds me, we should take the apprentices out of the city more often,” Thomas muses at one point. Peter tries and fails not to make a face, and Thomas laughs at him.

“Fine, just so long as it doesn’t involve unicorns.”

“I’ll do my best,” Thomas promises, mock-seriously, and Peter wrinkles his nose but then laughs at himself.

Peter and Beverley had got a new lamp for the living room recently, and normally Thomas didn’t notice the change, except for moments like this, when Peter was sitting back on the couch, collar loose around his throat, smiling to himself, that smooth skin seeming to almost glow in the soft golden light.

It’s that familiar surprise again, Thomas realizing that he still responds, even now, to the sight of that handsome face and warm smile. Thomas glances away, setting his empty wine glass down on the table as he says, “It’s getting late.”

But Peter just gives him a confused look. “Right, and you’ve got plenty of clothes in the spare bedroom,” he says in response, not missing a beat.

Thomas’s room and bed at the Folly are more comfortable by far, as the spare bed here has a distressing tendency to creak lately, but it’s not even a close decision. “All right,” Thomas says, feeling lighter as he speaks.

“Good,” Peter says, and picks up their empty glasses to take them out to the kitchen. Thomas follows, because after all it’s his turn to do the dishes.

*

Thomas sleeps exceedingly well that night, and wakes up that morning refreshed and alert, even if he does wince as he gets out of the bed, the mattress creaking loudly in protest. He really must mention it to Peter and Beverley.

As he comes out of the bedroom, wearing the dressing robe that Beverley had picked out for him--it’s a slightly brighter shade of purple than Thomas would’ve picked for himself, but he appreciates the thought behind it--he sees Peter emerging from his own bedroom, yawning.

He’s wearing nothing but a pair of boxers and a thin undershirt, and when he catches sight of Thomas, he flashes him a sweet, sleepy smile, rubbing at his eyes. “Morning,” he rumbles. “You want first crack at the shower?”

“If you don’t mind,” Thomas says. “Is Beverley still asleep?”

“She went out for an early patrol along the river,” Peter says, “--but she’ll be back for breakfast.”

Just then they hear Laura starting to stir in her room, and Peter laughs. “Duty calls.”

Eventually, with only a minimal amount of wrangling for Laura, they’re settled in the kitchen, with Peter making coffee and Nightingale sitting in front of Laura in his shirtsleeves, doing his best to convince Laura that bananas should be eaten rather than worn on one’s face or shirt.

So far Laura’s winning the argument. Nightingale’s in the midst of catching yet another piece of banana when Beverley comes in, still wearing her wetsuit, beads of water shining in her hair.

Thomas smiles at the sight of her, asking, "How are Father Thames and his court?"

"Fine," Beverley says. "Still on about land use changes." The conversation drifts from there, the three of them discussing Laura's sleeping habits, the issue with the spare bed creaking and getting possible replacements--although frankly, there's not any chance of Molly letting them take a spare bed from the Folly. Just a simple, domestic conversation in the kitchen at breakfast-time, and Thomas can feel the low hum of contentment deep in his chest as it goes on.

"And it's pretty much your room now, if you hadn't noticed," Peter points out, on the topic of the spare bedroom.

"Hmm," Thomas says, lost in thought as he catches a wayward slice of banana--Laura is persistent as ever, even if her aim leaves much to be desired. "I suppose that's true." And it is, his clothes are hanging in the closet, folded neatly away in the spare dresser. He has a lamp and books on the bedside table--Peter and Beverley went and found a bedside table, and brought it there specifically for him.

It's his room in this house, and there's no use pretending otherwise. Thomas finds himself smiling at the--not relief, exactly, more like confirmation. Something settling into place, with only the faintest of clicks.

And then Beverley utters, in a tone of shock that's totally out of place for the conversation they’ve been having, "Oh my god," and Thomas looks first at Laura, who is fine, then at Peter and Beverley. Peter looks briefly startled, touching Beverley on her arm, but Beverley looks too stunned to respond, staring blankly out in front of her as if an elephant has landed in the room.

It's on the tip of Thomas' tongue to press her on what's wrong, and then Laura decides that what Thomas's shirt needs is mashed banana flung on top of it, and promptly remedies the issue.

At Thomas's sigh, Peter points out helpfully, "You have three shirts in your room."

But whatever is happening with Beverley, Thomas doesn't get an answer, at least not right away. She quickly disappears to take a shower, and Peter looks first at the cup of coffee Beverley leaves untouched on the counter, then at Thomas. "Think I'm going to--"

"Go on, we’re fine here," Thomas urges him, and Peter goes off to look to see what's going on with Beverley.

Laura gurgles happily as she flings her hands down on the tray of her high-chair, flinging yet another piece of banana on Thomas' shirt. Thomas looks at it and sighs again, and gives her an unimpressed look. "You know, if you didn't like this shirt there are much easier ways of telling me so."

Whatever Peter and Beverley discussed upstairs, Beverley seems calmer when she comes down in her bathrobe to see them off. She’s balancing Laura on her hip as Peter and Thomas walk out the door, and kisses Peter goodbye on the cheek, and then turns and gives a matching kiss on the cheek to Thomas, the move so quick and natural that Thomas doesn’t quite realize what happens until he’s already halfway to the car. He quickly turns to look back at her in the doorway, but Beverley’s just watching him steadily, and Thomas can still feel the faint imprint of her mouth on his cheek.

“What’s going on with Beverley?” he asks once they’re both in the car, and Peter lifts one shoulder.

“Not sure yet,” he admits.

“Because she kissed me just now on the cheek,” Thomas continues, and Peter looks at him, and a small smile starts to appear on his face.

“Wait, is that why you’ve got that furrow between your eyebrows that you get?” he asks. “Because of that?” He looks incredibly amused by this, and reaches out to poke at Thomas’s forehead, right between his eyebrows. “Relax, or your face is going to stick that way.”

For all of Peter’s teasing, his touch is light, and he moves his hand away before Thomas can even really react, or protest. Not that Thomas would have protested, he would have--well. Thomas isn’t actually sure what he would have done.

He’s been silent too long, and now Peter’s looking at him with concern. “You all right?”

“Yes,” Thomas says. “Perfectly fine.” And he is; he’s also just...a little confused.

*

On the first sunny day they have that week, the four of them go out for a picnic by Beverley’s river.

Thomas rolls up his sleeves and sits back on his arms, enjoying the sunshine and the smell of wet grass, keeping an eye on Laura so that she doesn't try to scoot off the blanket again.

"She's going to be crawling soon," Peter says, in a tone of doom. "Then we're all in trouble."

Over Laura's determined babbling, Thomas says, thoughtfully, "We're going to have to be much more careful about having her at the Folly when it gets to that." He thinks of the marble floors with a wince, barely noticing as Peter picks grass off of his jumper and uses it to tickle Laura's nose. Thomas has to smile at the outraged look on Laura's face as she attempts to bat it away, falling backwards for her pains.

"Ty's probably going to tell me off about it," Beverley says with a sigh.

"I don't know how she finds the time to lecture both of us," Peter says, and Thomas abruptly can't pay attention to anything else but the conversation they're now having.

"What has Tyburn been lecturing you about?" Thomas asks.

Peter has a guilty look on his face, which only makes Thomas' sudden suspicions worse, and then he confirms it by saying, "Um. You, mostly."

And despite the warmth of the spring day, the sunshine falling on his head, Thomas feels an odd chill, as if someone's flung cold water into his face without warning.

Beverley, looking nearly as startled and alarmed as Thomas feels, sits up from where she's been lying down on the blankets. "You never said!"

As Peter explains the depths of Tyburn's interference, Thomas holds his tongue, but only with a great effort. Once Peter finishes explaining, Thomas says, and he can hear the affront in his own voice, "I'm a loss for what sort of advice Tyburn might think she has standing to give you about me."

Though, honestly, Thomas has seen the thoughtful, suspicious looks he's got from Tyburn and Fleet at the monthly stakeholder meetings of late; he’d just never felt any undue concern over it. Between the apprentices, the general work of the Folly, and helping to raise--helping with Laura, Thomas simply hadn't thought to wonder about the sudden coolness of Tyburn and Fleet's attitudes towards him.

Although clearly he should have put some thought into it.

"I'm not," Beverley says grimly, but continues in a firm tone, "But you shouldn't pay attention to her. Either of you."

"She hasn't tried speaking to me," Thomas says. He can hear the indignation in his own voice and he can't help it, not when he's still feeling as though he's been blindsided.

Beverley's mouth twists, and she says, sounding a little apologetic, "She has to me. On the theme of 'what is he doing in your house’."

There's a moment of silence as all of them hear the words out loud, and then Peter says, in a slow, considering voice, "This is...possibly a bit late. But why are you here?"

Thomas doesn't let himself look at Peter, or at Beverley, even though he can feel them both watching him. He looks down at Laura instead, at her dear face, so familiar and already so changed from six months ago, when Peter and Beverley first bought her home, and then made room for Thomas while they were at it. He's not sure of what to say, and so attempts to put it off. "A picnic's a lovely way to take advantage of the first sunny day we've had this week."

"Thomas," Peter says. He still hardly uses Thomas' given name, despite having had permission to do so for years and years now. "Come on."

Some things must be said, after all. How on earth did Thomas think he could go so long without ever making his intentions clear? So he looks up, looks at Peter and says, his heart beating a little faster as he does, "Here's a very good place to be, as it turns out. If you'll have me."

And because he's looking at Peter, he sees every emotion that washes over Peter's face, the way his eyes go wide for just a fraction of a second before he says, immediate and heartfelt, "Yes. Jesus, you know that."

And Thomas thinks of the bedside table and the shirts hanging in the closet, of the pick-up schedule programmed into his phone and the house key in his pocket, and really--Thomas has known that, all along.

"It's too late, anyway," Beverley says briskly, getting up to her knees with grace.

"Too late for what?" Peter asks, but Thomas just looks up at her--sitting cross-legged as he is, she's taller than he is, and from this angle, the sunlight is hitting Beverley from behind, outlining her with a soft glow, making her seem almost--

Except that she is, and always has been, exactly what she is. Thomas can't sit here at her river and not know that.

So he turns up his face to look straight into Beverley's dark eyes and smiling mouth, as she says gravely, staking her claim, "You came into my house and ate my food, so you're mine now." And Beverley settles the bargain with a kiss on his forehead, her lips cool against his skin.

Thomas exhales, his eyes falling shut on reflex, and waves off Peter's momentary confusion by saying, simply, the truth of it sinking into his bones as he speaks, "I know."

He looks back up at Beverley, and she’s smiling down at him, brilliant and dazzling to the eyes, and Thomas can feel himself start to smile back--and then Laura makes another attempt to crawl off the blanket again, and the moment is broken.

But that’s all right, because it still happened, and none of them can forget it.

They don’t go back into the house for hours, not until the sun finally disappears for good behind the clouds that have started to gather. Beverley tilts her head up, a thoughtful look on her face, and then declares, “We should head in.”

Peter carries Laura in her arms, answering her chattering with thoughtful answers of his own, and Thomas carries the blanket under his arm. His free arm is taken by Beverley, who loops her arm through his and says, “Now that things are settled,” Thomas smiles at that, “--you should move more of your things here.”

“Yes,” Thomas agrees. “I really should do that, shouldn’t I.”

“Good,” Beverley says, pleased. “And I’ll talk to Ty.”

“You don’t have to,” Thomas says, more out of a feeling that he should say that, rather than any real belief that he’ll be able to talk Beverley out of it. “I’m not concerned.”

“Neither am I,” Beverley says with a shrug. “But it’s important to make things clear.”

“Yes,” Thomas says, looking at her, then to Peter and Laura, just a few steps ahead of them. “It is.”

 

Epilogue:

"Everything all right, sir?" Malini asks, the third time she catches Thomas hiding a yawn behind his hand.

"Apologies," Thomas says, with a vague wave of his hand. "Laura's teething again."

"Oh," Malini says. At this point, none of the apprentices blink anymore at Thomas' involvement with Laura, or how frequently he spends the night away from the Folly. Thomas doesn't know what they're speculating, and frankly doesn't bother worrying about it. "Is she not sleeping through the night again?"

"Mm," Thomas says, rubbing at his temples. "Three hours sleep last night, that's all any of us got." He shakes his head a little. "Anyway, about your tenses here--”

They get through the last of Malini’s Latin homework without any trouble, but as he’s shuffling the papers back together, Malini’s looking him over and she suggests, “Maybe a nap?” Thomas raises his eyebrows at her and Malini looks a little embarrassed, but she says, “It couldn’t hurt.”

“No,” Thomas agrees, but points out, “Unfortunately, I’ve a meeting at Belgravia right after this.”

He gets a phone call from Beverley on the way to Belgravia--Abigail’s driving the Jag, as Thomas has had enough lectures from Peter and Beverley and Abdul about driving while sleep-deprived--and when he answers, Beverley opens with, “Guess who’s agreed to take Laura for the night.”

“One of your relatives of whom we are exceedingly fond?” Thomas asks, hopeful, and Beverley laughs.

“Got it in one,” she says, gleefully. “Mum decided she hasn’t seen enough of her grandchild, and between all of her friends, they’ll be able to hand one teething baby.”

“Oh, brilliant,” Thomas says with a sigh of relief.

“You’re still coming back at six-thirty, though, right?” Beverley presses, and Thomas sits up a little straighter in his seat, as something in her tone gets his attention.

“Certainly,” he says.

Beverley sounds pleased--and a little relieved--as she says, “Good. I’ll tell Peter.”

“Hm,” Thomas says, and since Abigail is in the car, he can’t actually come out with what he’s thinking,which is along the lines of, does this have anything to do with the whispering that you and Peter are constantly doing when you think I’m not paying attention?

But Abigail is in the car, and even if she’s doing a very good job of pretending as though she’s not listening, she’s still got a pair of working ears, so Thomas just says instead, “I’ll see you later tonight then.”

“Excellent,” Beverley says, and even though Thomas knows she must be planning something, it’s still gratifying to hear the pleased tone of her voice.

But by the time Thomas eventually makes it to the house, he’s got a headache building again at the temples, exhaustion dragging at his limbs. Once he’s in the door, he doesn’t bother shrugging out of his jacket, simply collapses next to Peter on the couch and asks, his eyes falling shut as he rests his head back on the cushion, “Remind me again why I simply didn’t send you to this meeting?”

“Because I did the laundry,” Peter says. “And I got up to check on Laura last night.”

“So did I,” Thomas points out. “And so did Beverley. Try again.”

“Because you felt like being generous and dealing with Seawoll’s glares for once?” Peter offers next.

“Seawoll never glares at you,” Thomas points out. “At least not anymore.”

“Yeah, he’s warming up to me a little,” Peter says, sounding rather smug; Thomas opens his eyes to glare at him, and Peter just grins back at him, fond and amused. Thomas can feel his mouth reluctantly turning upwards in affection, and Peter looks briefly startled before scrambling to his feet.

As Thomas stares at him in confusion, Peter says in a rush, “Well, I should get started on dinner, you’re probably hungry.”

“I thought we were doing takeaway tonight,” Thomas says, surprised.

“Felt like eating a home-cooked meal,” Peter says, and quickly takes himself off to the kitchen.

Beverley comes downstairs soon afterwards, having been in the bath. Thomas looks up from where he’s turned on the BBC news, and asks, “Is anything wrong with Peter?”

Beverley pauses on the stairs, and asks, “Why, is he acting weird?”

“Yes,” Thomas says, bewildered. “He’s been hiding himself in the kitchen ever since I got in.”

Beverley rolls her eyes. “Don’t worry. He’s just bottling it.” She raises her voice a little at this last, baffling statement, which prompts an indignant, “Oi!” from Peter in the kitchen.

As she sits down next to him on the couch, Beverley takes a closer look at Thomas, frowns, and asks him, “Do you have a headache again?”

At this point, Thomas doesn’t question how she can tell these things, he just nods wearily and says, “I’ve already taken paracetamol, just waiting for it to pass.”

“Hmm,” Beverley says. “Can I try something?”

Thomas blinks and nods, and Beverley reaches out and sinks her fingers into his hair, and Thomas groans in relief as she begins to give him a scalp massage.

Twenty or so minutes later, Peter emerges from the kitchen at last. “Dinner’s ready,” he starts, and then stops mid-sentence, staring at the two of them. Well, to be fair, Thomas’s head is resting in Beverley’s lap, and she’s still rubbing at his temples.

“Hello,” Thomas says, relaxed and somewhat drowsy.

“Hi, Peter,” Beverley says, sounding rather amused--but she’s still rubbing circles into Thomas’s temples, so as far as he’s concerned, she can tease Peter however she likes.

Peter stares at them mutely, and says at last in a faint voice, “Dinner’s ready.”

He slips back into the kitchen again, and Thomas looks up at Beverley, raising an eyebrow. She just looks down at him and says, solemnly, “I told you he’s bottling it.”

Thomas still has no idea what she’s referring to, and continues to have no idea throughout dinner. Peter seems to have settled down somewhat, even if he and Beverley keep exchanging glances when they think Thomas isn’t looking.

Finally, as they’re clearing the table, Beverley says in a light tone, “Oh right, I forgot I’ve got a load of laundry to fold still.”

“Laundry to fold?” Thomas repeats incredulously, while Peter groans, “Oh, come on, Bev.”

“You two can handle the dishes, right?” Beverley says with a cheeky grin, and whisks herself off before either one of them can reply.

Thomas stares after her, then turns to Peter. “Peter--”

“I’ll dry if you wash,” Peter says quickly, turning back to the sink. Thomas holds back a sigh. All right, he can wait them both out if need be.

And he’s right, as they’re only a few dishes in before Peter starts to speak, jerkily saying, “So the thing is that I’ve been, well. Thinking.”

“Thinking,” Thomas repeats, neutrally. “What about?”

“About, um, about the way things are now,” Peter says. He’s biting at his lip and drying the dishes so vigorously, Thomas is afraid the china will get chipped. “And not that things aren’t good now, because they are, but I’ve been thinking and maybe…”

He trails off. Thomas says, “Peter, just tell me,” a thread of worry making it into his voice despite himself.

Peter squares his shoulders, and finally looks up--and Thomas goes very still at what he sees there. And then Peter starts to lean in--good God, they’re standing so close, how did Thomas not notice how closely they were standing?

“If this isn’t all right,” Peter says, his breath coming just a little quicker now, his gaze darting down to Thomas’s mouth, “If this isn’t all right, just say so--”

“Peter,” Thomas breathes out, stunned, and then Peter’s kissing him, his mouth soft and tasting of the wine they had at dinner. Thomas can’t, he can’t think, all he can do is stand there, heartbeat pounding in his ears, shocked into utter stillness at the feeling of Peter’s mouth on his, at the realization that Peter is kissing him here in the kitchen and Christ, this is what Beverley went off to do laundry for? To give Peter room and time to, to--

And then Peter starts to pull away, and Thomas immediately leans in and kisses him again without thinking, because he can’t bear to to do anything else.

Peter sighs, his mouth falling open a little, his hand brushing along Thomas’s waist, and Thomas groans and kisses him harder. By the time he pulls away at last, they’re both breathing hard and Peter is staring at him in amazement. At last he starts to smile a little, and says, “So that worked out all right,” and as Thomas gapes at him, Peter laughs a little and moves in to kiss him again.

*

For all of Peter’s reassurances, Thomas still isn’t sure how this will work out, not until he’s standing in the doorway to Peter and Beverley’s bedroom, in his dressing gown and pajamas, looking at Beverley in the bed. Peter’s still brushing his teeth in the bathroom, and is no doubt dawdling to give them this time to talk.

Beverley’s wearing an oversized t-shirt, nothing that Thomas hasn’t already seen her wearing about the house, and she looks amused. “Do you really sleep in that dressing gown?”

“Of course not,” Thomas huffs, but the ice has been broken, and he finds himself stepping inside.

“I see that Peter finally got his act together,” Beverley says next, and Thomas flushes hotly, and he knows that Beverley can see that too.

“Are you--” Sure, Thomas nearly asks, except that neither Peter or Beverley would have done this if they weren’t. So he changes tack, and asks instead, "Is there anything I should know before..." He trails off helplessly, because he's already in this as deep as it can go, the three of them, Peter and Beverley and Laura, so deeply embedded inside of him that it'd take a lifetime to try and carve them out.

Beverley's watching him, and Thomas is abruptly reminded of that day at her riverbank, the sunlight gilding her face as she finally put words to everything that they are to each other. "The only thing you need to know is that you're ours, and we're yours," she says gently. "Nothing changes that, not anything."

Thomas tries to speak, can’t, and simply nods. Beverley smiles at him, soft and sweet, and asks, “Is there a particular side of the bed you prefer?”

“Either’s fine,” Thomas says, his voice a little hoarse.

“Good,” Beverley says, and pulls down the comforter, and waits.

It’s easier than he would have expected it to be, to slip underneath the sheets and lie in the bed, his pillow smelling of Peter and Beverley both. He’s as stiff as a plank at first, but Beverley shows no sign of self-consciousness, settling back into the bed with a sigh, not bothering to keep any particular distance between them.

“Besides,” Beverley murmurs after a moment, “--this will just make it easier working out whose turn it is to check on Laura in the night.”

“You know,” Thomas says, starting to smile, “--you’re right about that.”

By the time Peter comes to bed, Thomas’s eyes are heavy with exhaustion, and Peter shows no hint of worry at all, simply sliding in next to Thomas, sleepily saying, “Good night.” He leans in over Thomas to kiss Beverley on the mouth, and then kisses Thomas, his mouth tasting of mint.

Thomas stares up at the ceiling as Peter settles in next to him, a warm solid weight against his side. Beverley’s already curled up facing them, her dreadlocks spread out across the pillow, dozing. “Goodnight,” Thomas says softly, and lets his breathing fall into a deep and steady rhythm, waiting for sleep to overtake him as well.

He wakes up that first morning with Peter’s face tucked into his neck, and Beverley’s hand resting on his arm where she’d curled in closer to him in the night. Both of them are still asleep, dead to the world, and Thomas’ chest feels oddly tight as he looks at Beverley and then at Peter.

He lifts his head at last to check the clock, and settles back into the pillow with a sigh. Plenty of time yet before they need to pick up Laura, or to be anywhere in particular. Enough time for him to relax and start getting used to this, the same way that he’s adjusted to all the other changes over the past nine months.

He has all the time he could ask for, Thomas thinks, and settles a little more deeply into the pillow with a sigh of contentment, closing his eyes as he does.