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show me how you care, tell me how you were loved before

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Newt and Hermann had their date earlier—a lovely drive to the lake where they rented a small paddleboat and spent the last dregs of the afternoon dozing in the sun out on the water—and now they’re hazy, warm and loose from the day. They lounge together, too over-hot to be pressed together but holding hands nonetheless. The TV is off, neither of them staring at anything in particular, neither of them eager to move, get up, speak, look at each other, even. They’re content to sit in their thoughts, and Peter is not in any hurry to interrupt them. They look awfully domestic—together in their silence, thick like honey, sweet like summer rain. Peter loves them. It’s simple, and it’s fact. He doesn’t have to hypothesize. He doesn’t have to test.

When Tendo arrives, pulling off his layers in the doorway and hanging them up on the coatrack, Peter pulls him into a hug, smells the pine on his shoulders and the city dust. Tendo smells that way. Like noise and movement. Like cheap booze and aftershave. Like the easy smile and lighthearted greeting he gives Peter.

“Hey, hot-stuff,” Tendo murmurs, teeth catching on his lower lip. “Did you give it to them yet?”

Peter shakes his head. “They came back too quickly. Or maybe I started too late.”

He does feel bad about it, the surprise is half-spoiled, but Tendo ushers him to the kitchen and doesn’t hesitate to slip into his own apron. This is why, Peter thinks, he also loves Tendo. Tendo is uncomplicated. Tendo sees a situation and is quick to come up with a solution. He doesn’t linger, or tie himself in knots. He moves through life as if he dominates the spaces he inhabits—and maybe he does.

Tendo gives him a wry grin, flour on his hands, streaked over his cheek, in the mousse-hold of his hair. Peter kisses him, brief and chaste, as they push the baking tray into the oven. They wash their hands together, getting flour grit and sugar out from each other’s nails, laughing when the water jumps and splashes. It’s easy, this, Newt and Hermann dozing in the living room, Tendo warm and shaking with laughter. They’re, all of them, older, more world-weary, more burdened. But still, they find time to push into each other’s spaces, to accommodate, to compromise. None of the four of them are easy, often they all need space in their own ways—to heal, to think, to be creative, to regret, to love.

As they wait on the oven, they join Newt and Hermann. While Peter curls around Hermann, Tendo slips in beside Newt and wraps his arm around his shoulders.

“Hello, sleepyhead,” Tendo murmurs low and amused as Newt’s head lolls onto his shoulder. Newt looks up at him blearily, face scrunched up in confusion before it brightens and it’s a terribly beautiful thing. Tendo cards his fingers through his hair, toys with his greying temples. “How was your date?“

“Mm.” Newt shifts, pulling his feet up onto the couch and pressing his face into Tendo’s chest. His ears are flushed in that endearing way he still has, even now, even after everything. “We didn’t really do anything special. It was beautiful though.”

“Too many damn birds,” Hermann grumbles, still half-asleep as he stretches out his limbs and seeks Newt and Tendo out with his gaze. His hand is warm on Peter’s thigh, caressing up and down, just barely ghosting. “And so much mulch in the water.”

“That mulch means there’s a lot of nitrogen in the water,” Peter says. “Probably because of all the thunderstorms. Summer’s on the way and the sky is all electric.”

“I couldn’t see a single fish.” Hermann’s attempt at disgruntled is dispirited. Peter can tell that the mood is too good for anything to truly sour it.

“If you wanted to see fish,” Newt drawls, “we could have gone to the aquarium.”

“I missed you,” Peter says. “Come surprise me some time.”

Tendo uses the lull in the conversation to press a kiss to the side of Newt’s head and retreat to the kitchen. It’s done so smoothly, so seamlessly that it’s almost unnoticed. Almost, until Peter gets up to join him. He’s not so graceful. Large and lumbering, he can’t help but draw attention.

“You two have been super buddy-buddy lately. What are you planning?” Newt asks, eyes narrowing with suspicion. In the wake of Tendo’s absence leaving him cold, he pulls the fuzzy throw blanket down from the back of the sofa and over him. Hermann shuffles over under it and Peter thinks they look like a pair of fluffed up birds, their hair tossed askew and their faces pinched as they look at Peter. He knows neither of them can see him very well. They don’t have their glasses on.

“Don’t scrutinize me.” Peter laughs, shaking his head as he leaves the room.

“I know you’re making something,” Newt hollers. “It smells good.”

Since Tendo has already pulled the tray from the oven, Peter busies himself with the frosting. It reminds him, sharp and sudden, of childhood. Of standing in the back room of the bakery, wooden spoon overlarge in his small hands and his father’s back so impossibly broad as he hunched over the metal prep table. Then, the excited sweaty grin through whiskers and being pulled up into his arms, looking at pristine pastries as his father asked him: do you think they’ll make people happy? If anything, Peter knows for certain that there are many ways to make people happy.

Touch, the touch at Tendo’s elbow to get him to shift over the slightest bit. Speech, the way Newt will sometimes allow himself to ramble at the aquarium and Peter will listen, will engage. Gifts, the quilt in the guest room, the coats and the knitted caps, the candles, the pretty stones, the funny little capes for the hens. Service, massaging the ache from Hermann’s limbs, this, baking.

Tendo presses up, hot, against his back and hums as he looks down over his shoulder.

“Looks good,” Tendo says quietly. His hands are on Peter’s waist, distracting, and his facial hair pricks through the thin fabric of Peter’s shirt.

“Plates?” Peter licks the frosting from his own fingers and takes off his apron, tossing it aside carelessly. The kitchen has been made a mess, but they’ll deal with it later. All four of them will crowd in the tight space, feet tangling, arms bumping, laughing and cursing.

He takes the plates Tendo hands him and they both shift the cupcakes onto them. Tendo can’t help but steal one, snickering in a way that belies his age, wrinkles and lines pressed into the contours of his handsome face. Tendo is ageless, but for moments like this. Moments where Peter can’t help but balance his own plates and pull Tendo aside for a brief kiss, pressed against the doorway of the kitchen.

“We can see you,” Hermann’s mutter cuts through the light tightness in Peter’s chest and he laughs against Tendo’s lips before they break.

“There’s plenty for you,” Peter bites back, handing Hermann his plate before kissing him soundly as well. Hermann makes a small, high, indignant noise and doesn’t even bother to hide how inordinately pleased with himself he is when Peter pulls back.

The four of them fit on the couch. It’s tight. It makes the couch dip too low, springs poking. It doesn’t take long for them to start sweating where they’re pressed together—thighs, arms, sides, necks sometimes. The frosting leaves their hands sticky, and therefore it gets everywhere when things dissolve into hands and casual intimacy. As day turns to night cozied in its nest, they kick up their feet onto the coffee table and their eyes begin to droop. Tendo—ever the night owl—looks on with open affection. Hermann’s hand is tucked up under Tendo’s thin undershirt, petting over the dusky treasure trail. Newt’s face is tucked into Peter’s neck. He’s not quite asleep, but he’s getting there fast enabled by Peter kneading his back with little commitment.

It’s not that he believes it won’t last. It’s not that he doesn’t want it to last. It’s that he’s going to do his best to keep his place here, with these three men that are jagged and soft, mutable and firm, giving and reticent, selfish and generous. He’s going to match. Whatever they give, he’ll try to give the same and a little more.

“Why’re you gettin’ all shaky and weepy on your own for?” Newt says, hot and humid against his neck. “You’re thinkin’ too much.”

Peter wipes his eyes and presses his nose to Newt’s hair—pomade, the same Tendo uses, and something minty like Hermann, and something wet and rich and distinctly Newt. Dirt, from the garden. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Newt says, pulling back briefly and looking at him with his eyes too green. Peter is lucky, he thinks, to have been let in. Hermann and Newt have been bound together by something Peter can’t entirely comprehend. Couldn’t ever comprehend. But all the same, Newt looks at him and sees him. “I’ve got you.”

Newt squeezes his hand reassuringly just as the sky splits open, crack so loud it shakes the foundations of the house. Newt’s brows rise in surprise and Tendo sinks down further into the couch, further around Hermann. It’s Tendo’s favorite kind of weather.

“Ah, finally,” Tendo says. “The rain’s been moving closer every day. Finally, it’s here.”

Finally, the warm breath of summer billows in through the windows. Comes to greet them here, where they’ve collapsed into each other. Into kindness, and compassion, and hard work.