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Feint, Counterfeint

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Peter tugged at his tie as he headed out of the bathroom towards the kitchen; realising he'd loosened it by reflex, he stopped in the middle of the hall to straighten it again. He shook his head at himself; clearly his mind would rather already be home from work instead of only just on his way in.

The smell of coffee and clink of silverware on a dish drew him onwards; he smiled as he saw Elizabeth standing beside the counter, spoon in hand.

"Tell me we're not having a three-course meal for breakfast," he teased. Sunday's breakfast had not quite been so extravagant, but burning the toast and letting the first round of coffee get cold had led to a simple breakfast being served in stages. Elizabeth had made the joke first, and Peter loved to see the way her smile appeared every morning as he repeated it back to her.

She laughed so much nowadays, he thought to himself as he accepted a mug of coffee and a good morning kiss from his wife. He could hardly blame her; Peter had to admit that he probably laughed a lot more himself, as well.

It had been a strange year, but to look at them now -- it had clearly been a good one.

"Did somebody put something in the coffee?"

Peter glanced over his shoulder, stepping away from Elizabeth as Neal walked into the kitchen. Neal was already holding a mug in his hand, sipping from it as he peered at them over the rim. His eyes were full of mischief -- when weren't they -- and Peter found himself shaking his head.

"It's decaf," Peter said flatly, then laughed as Neal froze for just a moment before taking another drink.

Neal gave him a glare, then leaned casually against the counter. "So are you busy today?"

Peter blinked, then gestured at his suit. "I always dress like this on my Wednesdays off. Oh, wait. I don't get Wednesdays off." He glared harder as Neal rolled his eyes.

"He means, are you free for lunch?" Elizabeth interrupted, pulling at his tie. Peter turned towards her, and stood obediently still as she straightened the knot and smoothed down the silk.

"I have to be in court all day," Peter said. "Which means a sandwich and a horrible cup of brown water passing for coffee at the courthouse cafeteria."

Elizabeth pouted briefly at him, but nodded. Neal just shrugged. "Wouldn't you rather meet us at Cafe Cristo?"

Peter stared for a moment, pondering then discarding any of the sarcastic comments that came so easily to mind. As if he would seriously prefer cold tuna salad sandwiches over the meatloaff and roasted potatoes at Cafe Cristo? He shook his head. "There's no way. I'll be lucky to get ten minutes to scarf down my food."

Elizabeth patted his cheek. "Poor baby. We'll bring you leftovers for dinner." She walked over to Neal, taking his hand as he held it out.

"Every time you say you'll bring me leftovers, I always find an empty box in the fridge," Peter pointed out.

"Then you should get home before seven," Neal said, unrepentantly.

"Or eight," Elizabeth added.

Neal opened his mouth -- no doubt to say 'or nine' -- but Peter hadn't been that late getting home in days, now, and he cut Neal off. "Or you could just stay out of my dinner."

Neal gave him an astonished look of surprise. Peter just narrowed his eyes, remembering a time when he could -- so he thought -- intimidate the other man with a stern warning.

Of course now he knew that, even back then, Neal had been laughing at him whenever he tried it. A year ago he'd at least done it silently. More or less. Now Neal was grinning at him and holding Elizabeth's hand, tugging her towards him. Elizabeth gave Peter a sympathetic look. "Maybe we can go back this weekend."

"Maybe," Peter nodded. He glanced at his watch and realised he was running late -- slow mornings had gotten slower, lately, trying to dodge two sets of hands that always seemed determined to keep him from getting to the shower, much less to the office. He started to apologize, but Elizabeth was already there, coming back to him.

"See you tonight," she said, giving him a kiss, which he returned as thoroughly as he dared to take the time for. Then she stepped back and Neal took her place, muttering something about not stealing his leftovers this time, and giving Peter a kiss of his own.

"You will always steal my leftovers," Peter said. "Which is why I don't understand why you bother telling me they're mine."

"It's more fun to steal what belongs to someone else," Neal said, grinning. Peter rolled his eyes and took one last swallow of coffee. Then he left it on the counter and headed for the front door.

On the way to work all he could think was, she never used to laugh so much. I never used to make her so happy.



It wasn't late when he finally got home after work the next Friday -- not terribly, horribly, come-in-on-tip-toes late. But the apartment was dark and Peter left the lights off as he made his way slowly into the living room. All week long it had been that way: out the door as quickly as he could, one or two quick phone calls during whatever ten minutes he could grab to call lunch, then home late enough that he felt like he was sixteen and trying to keep his parents from noticing he was only just getting home.

He left his jacket on the couch, draping it over the back and not caring if the mud was smearing itself on the cushions. It was long dried by now, caked and flaking and easy enough to brush off. His knee, on the other hand, still ached from his heavy landing. Chasing felons over fences was police work; he was supposed to be the one who came in afterwards and stood there looking solemn before heading back to his nice, clean office.

Somebody needed to tell O'Brien that, he mused, glad they had at least caught the asshole and locked him up where he could think about his future behind bars.

Peter turned towards the kitchen, but realised he wasn't in the mood to find out if they'd left him anything. Neal would have been cooking tonight, which meant pasta of some kind. Peter could imagine the kitchen would still smell of oregano and garlic; his stomach didn't seem interested and he conceded that sleep was more urgent than food.

He forewent the kitchen and headed down the hallway towards the bedroom; it wasn't late but there were no sounds coming from anywhere in the apartment. It was possible they'd already gone to bed, already fallen asleep. Peter felt a hitch in his throat as he continued down the hallway and actually hesitated for a moment at the door. In all his years of marriage he'd never once slept on the couch; the idea teased at the back of his mind briefly before he shoved it aside.

But there was no one home, he suddenly realised. The bedroom was empty, and if they had had plans he couldn't bring himself to remember what they might have been. Flipping on the bedroom light, he started to pull out his phone, then stopped. It would be obvious to them he'd forgotten, if he'd been meant to meet them somewhere. And with Neal and Elizabeth it was entirely possible they were at the theater and their cells would be turned off.

All of which meant he was either in the doghouse for not meeting them, or they were having a night out together and didn't expect him at all. He dropped his phone on the nightstand beside the bed and sat down heavily on the bed.

He'd always been bad about making their dates. From the day he'd met Elizabeth, to the day they got married, to the day she sat him down and told him he should invite Neal home, he had always managed to miss more of their time together than not. The job took him away from home so often, but she had always understood. She'd never once shown anger or frustration, they'd never once fought about it.

As much as he loved her, and as much as he loved Neal, he found himself watching them both slip away.

Neal had relaxed so much, these last few months. They'd finally convinced him of his welcome and the smile he'd always worn plastered on his face had slowly grown real. Peter closed his eyes and heard Neal's laughter, head thrown back as he held himself above Peter, sprawled on his back in this same bed with Elizabeth tucked in at his shoulder smiling at them both.

Peter took off his clothes and crawled into bed, ignoring the light overhead. They were both so happy nowadays.

He pulled the sheets over his shoulder, tucking himself in, and wondered where they were.


"Shh," someone whispered, and Peter kept his eyes closed. He'd woken the moment the front door opened, tense for that second before he identified his wife's -- and whatever Neal was -- voices. He'd stayed where he was, willing himself back to sleep. He had to be up early, back to the office on a Saturday, and he wanted to avoid the conversation revealing that would entail. He'd almost slipped back to sleep when they'd entered the bedroom and tried to shush each other. He laid still, knowing he'd left them both room enough by laying down on the very edge of the bed.

Someone walked up beside the bed behind him, then a cool hand slipped under the blankets and across his chest. Peter couldn't hide his start of surprise, shifting away from the touch.

He wasn't fast enough; Neal's mouth pressed down on his, lightly, but holding him still, pressing him back against the mattress. The bed dipped as Elizabeth crawled onto the bed from the other side, then her slightly warmed hand slid across his arm. As Neal let him go, her mouth pressed against Peter's.

Peter opened his eyes. "Wha--"

"We missed you," Elizabeth said. She was dressed nicely, not so nice they'd gone someplace fancy. Dinner and a movie, maybe, and Peter tried to stop guessing as Neal pushed at him, climbing into the bed despite there being no room on that side. Peter looked at him, confused, before responding to the insistent nudges and scooted towards the middle of the bed.

Neal slipped in behind him, spooning him with one arm across Peter's stomach and one leg nestled against the back of Peter's knees.

"We know you have to be to work tomorrow," Neal said. "So we won't keep you awake. Not for long." He winked. Then he leaned down and gave Peter another kiss, deep enough that Peter began to worry just how 'not long' it would be. But Neal let him go, and nudged him again. "We just want you to know we missed you," he said.

Peter looked at him, still confused, then turned to Elizabeth who just looked back at him with a slight, contented smile on her face and the same expression of love he'd seen every morning of his life for so many years. "When you close the case, we're taking you to Marcinelli's," she said and snuggled in, wrapping herself in his embrace.

"That could be days," Peter protested, but he was warm, and his body was relaxing despite his confusion. His eyes slipped closed of their own volition.

"We can wait," Neal whispered in his ear -- then a tongue licked, lightly, making Peter twitch. There were two sudden giggles and Peter felt himself begin to tense, but then there was a kiss on his ear and another on his lips, and two sets of arms were holding him tight.

He closed his eyes, trying to force the feeling of confusion away, and as he fell asleep he heard two voices whisper, "I love you."

the end