Pete watches from the couch as Ricky sets his shoes on the rack by the door and peels off his sweaty t-shirt. He went for a run on one of the hottest days of summer, the freak, and sweat drips and pools down his chest, plasters his hair to his skull. It's a little gross, but not gross enough for Pete to stop himself from dragging his eyes over Ricky's chest and arms. Ricky waves at him and Pete wiggles his eyebrows because he's gotta, y'know?
"Enjoying the air conditioning?" Ricky asks as he walks past Pete towards his and Esther's bedroom.
"Hell yeah!" Pete calls after him and definitely does not stare at Ricky's basketball of an ass as he leaves. He can hear the shower kick on in the other room and returns to playing games on his phone and redirecting texts from old customers. Pete's living in Ricky's old studio, which super does not have air conditioning, so he's invited himself over for a sleepover on the couch at the Matsui-Sinclair household. Esther also hates the summer heat and keeps the place at a perfect seventy degrees with an enchanted window unit that doesn't run up their electricity bill.
Ricky returns in a t-shirt and gray sweats that are doing a lot for him and sits on the other side of the couch, picking up Pete's feet and putting them in his lap. Pete goes to withdraw his legs but Ricky just squeezes his ankle and Pete leaves them sprawled out across him. "How's the bookstore?" Ricky asks as he uses the small pile of remotes to turn on a football game. Pete tells him about the leak in the roof that he patched today, the new children's books he shelved, the group of old women who bought out nearly every mystery paperback they had.
Esther arrives home with two pizzas, the absolute legend. Pete's ready to propose on the spot. "It's too hot to cook," she declares, setting them on the kitchen table and dropping her keys on the table by the door. She kisses Ricky's cheek and squeezes Pete's shoulder as she walks by the couch to go get changed out of her Occult Society suit.
Pete rolls right to his feet and heads to the kitchen because, hey, pizza! Ricky grumbles something about carbs and Pete bonks his ridiculously thick arm with his plate. The man probably ran a whole marathon today and he wants to be mad about carbs, ugh. Pete can't believe he likes him.
Ricky watches Pete fall asleep on Esther and his chest feels light and loose. The Rat King's bastard son had formed Mega Rat out of the ruins of his father's empire and they had spent the better part of the day running through the sewers fighting it. Esther and Pete had called dibs on the first two showers when they returned. Afterwards, they curled up on the couch together watching Love Island while Ricky had his turn.
Now he stands in the doorway between the bedroom and living room toweling off his hair and looking at the two of them curled into one corner of the sofa. Pete's got his head in Esther's lap and she's gently stroking at his hair and rubbing little circles on his back. They're both in NYFD sweatshirts that are far too big for either of them and they just look so cozy. He almost doesn't want to interrupt but Esther notices him and smiles. Her whole face crinkles with it, nose scrunching up, and she's really so beautiful, Ricky loves her so much.
She beckons him over and who is he to resist? Ricky chucks his towel towards the laundry bin and goes over, squeezes himself into the tiny space that she left between herself and the arm of the couch. Esther settles back against his chest, tilts her head back for a quick kiss. "I think he's out," she says softly.
Pete makes a little grumbly noise and one eye pops open to squint up at them. Esther shushes him, continues to run her fingers through his hair and the eye closes again and he nuzzles into her thigh a little. Ricky wonders if this is what he's like when he wakes up in the morning, sleepy and grumpy and pliant. He tucks one arm behind Esther and places his hand on Pete's lower back, just resting on him, and wraps his other arm around Esther's middle to hold her close. It's quiet in the room, just the sound of their breathing and the TV murmuring softly and the living hum of the city outside.
Esther watches Ricky watch Pete and her heart and lungs bubble with the soft heat in Ricky's gaze. She's seen that look turned on her before, and she's turned it on him, and she's carefully turned it off when looking at Pete.
Maybe she didn't have to.
Pete's not even doing anything particularly sexy or even interesting. He's sitting at their kitchen table filing his taxes on his laptop and drinking one of those tall cans of Arizona iced tea. Ricky's on the far side of the table chopping vegetables and periodically looks at Pete when Pete isn't looking with that deep smouldery intensity in his eyes. Maybe it's a good thing Pete's not looking, because it's the kind of look where you might end up jumping the person giving it to you on the spot, and Esther and Ricky should probably have a conversation before anything like that happens.
Esther watches them surreptitiously from where she's (ostensibly) reading a novel on the couch. She loves Ricky, although neither have said it yet (six months seems a bit too soon and also far too long). She lets her eyes rake over his muscular form, lingers on the swell of his arms and the curve of his jaw. Esther looks at Pete too, handsome in his awkward, birdish way. Impossibly messy and yet incomparably polite, always rushing to help out around the apartment, always washing his dishes and putting his shoes on the rack. She knows how the knobs of his spine feel under her hands, knows that he loves trashy reality TV shows because he used to watch them with his mom, knows that he always leaves the seat up after he pees in a truly confusing performance of gender norms.
Esther wonders how it'd feel to kiss him, what kind of kisser he would be, how he might cup her face and slide his hands in her hair. What it would be like to come home to Ricky and Pete.
Possibly not too different from how it is already.
Pete leaves after dinner, taxes filed and full of fried rice. Ricky and Esther do the last of the dishes together, soft indie music (one of Pete's playlists) humming from the speaker on the counter.
"We should talk about Pete," Esther says, and she lets her tone slip into something suggestive. Ricky looks at her expectantly. "I know you like him," Ricky starts to say something, but Esther plows onward. "I like him too."
Ricky tucks the last spoons from the dishwasher into the silverware drawer. He picks her up and sits her on the counter over the drawer, steps into her space. His eyes are dark and they scan over her face like he's looking for some sign that this is a joke or a gotcha. It's not. Esther drapes her arms over his neck and smiles at him as honestly as possible.
"I don't love-like you any less," he says, very earnest and her heart balloons in her chest. "I still want to be with you, no matter what."
"I don't love-like you any less," she says, kisses him to make her point. "I saw how you look at him. I think-I think we could make this work. All of us."
"How do we -" Ricky starts, and his eyes are crinkled a little with worry. "Do you think he'd even want this?"
Esther thinks about all the times Pete's come over unannounced, declared sleepovers without asking. How they buy soy milk for him to put in his coffee and lend him clothes and the bottle of his shampoo that lives in their shower. How he curls into them on the couch, how he leans against them when they ride the subway together. Pete looks at them with no fear or hesitation in his eyes, limbs loose and trusting; he shamelessly checks Ricky out every chance he gets (but so does everybody, he's Mr. March after all).
Again. Maybe this won't be too different after all.
"I think he would."
Ricky watches Esther kiss Pete and something inside of his chest roars with pride and lust and wanting. It's quick and chaste but Pete looks up at Esther with dizzy eyes and his whole body sways into her and they kiss again, bodies melting together where they stand. They're so beautiful and his chest feels like he's done a thousand reps of loving, cramped near to bursting.
Esther pulls away and they're still clinging to each other, Pete's arms around her waist and her hands firm on his biceps. She plants a kiss on his jaw, nudges his head with her nose so that he can turn to see Ricky standing right beside him. Whatever Ricky's face looks like must be a lot because Pete lets out a little whimper in the back of his throat even as he's leaning towards him. Ricky closes the distance, catches Pete's warm mouth against his own. Pete kisses like wildfire, like coming home, like summer rain. Pete fists a hand in Ricky's t-shirt and Ricky slides his hands to cup his jaw and the back of his neck.
He pulls away and Pete looks. Well, Pete looks like a horny mess but Pete sort of always looks like that so it's difficult to say for certain how he's feeling. Ricky feels a little self-conscious about the whole thing so he steps back a little, gives Pete some room to breathe.
"Oh, " Pete says, touches his mouth. His lips are red and a little slick. He smiles and it's dazed and pleased and just a little smug. "Well. This explains a lot."
"Oh shut up," Esther says, and then she kisses him again before he can even say make me .
Pete watches Esther read the directions on the back of the box of cake mix. It's Ricky's birthday and they're throwing a little surprise party for him tonight. Neither of them can bake for shit and Funfetti is the optimal cake flavor so Pete doesn't feel bad about the box mix.
"Oven to three-fifty," she says, and Pete punches it in. "One cup water, half cup oil, three eggs."
"Does it just all go in at once?" Pete asks, looking at the bowl full of mix skeptically. That seems too easy.
"I think so," Esther says. Her brow is furrowed as she reads the instructions again. She's standing in a perfect pool of sunlight, afternoon sun from the window glinting off her dark skin, highlighting the full curve of her mouth and illuminating the gold in her eyes. Pete has to remind himself what the focus here is. They can make out later while the cake's in the oven. "It's cake mix, it's got to be idiot-proof."
It looks like acceptable cake batter when it's mixed, and it goes into the pans and into the oven. Pete sets the bowl to soak in the sink and then Esther pins him against the counter and kisses him breathless.
They decorate the cake in garish blue frosting and an ungodly amount of heart shaped sprinkles before tucking it in the fridge. The apartment gets decorated with balloons and streamers and Kingston shows up early with the catering order. Everyone else shows up a little later, Rowan and Sofie and Wally and Ana and Amelia. It's a lot of people for a small apartment, but they manage. Pete likes how the kitchen is full to bursting and how the couch groans under too many people.
Esther shows Pete a text from The Johns that Ricky just left work, and they corral everyone into hiding and turn the lights out. A few minutes later The Johns pop in through the window from the fire escape, having bolted from the firehouse to beat Ricky there.
Ricky's appropriately startled when he gets home to all his friends crammed into his apartment and he's extra hot when there's a big grin plastered on his face. He tucks Esther and Pete into his sides and presses kisses to their cheeks because everybody here knows and is happy for them. Ricky keeps them close all night, which is his own downfall because Esther and Pete had been planning on smashing a plate of cake in his face for days now.
Esther watches Pete sleep in the low light coming in from the bathroom where Ricky is brushing his teeth. He's all curled up in the center of their bed, and Esther had tucked a pillow in his arms to replace her when she got up. Pete looks so peaceful like this, face and shoulders fully relaxed and hair mussed with sleep.
"I hate to wake him," Esther says softly to Ricky when he comes back in the room. "But we should really get going now if we want to beat traffic."
"I'll get him," Ricky says, and he sits on the edge of the bed to gently nudge Pete awake. Esther leaves the room while he does because she knows Pete is going to sleepily demand that they come back to bed and she's terribly weak. Ricky's a little tougher than she is and slightly more resistant to Pete's heavy-lidded gaze and grabby arms. Plus, if worst comes to worst Ricky can just carry Pete downstairs so he can sleep in the car.
Cape Cod is a long drive, but she's looking forward to a weekend away with her boys. Pete packed up the car yesterday with their bags and snacks, so all that's left is to be sure that all the windows are shut and locked and the lights are turned off. Esther is double checking she's got everything in her purse when Pete stumbles out of the bedroom, fully dressed but still rubbing sleep out of his eyes.
"Is there coffee?" he mumbles into her neck as he drapes himself over her shoulder.
"Pete, baby, it's four am. We'll hit a Dunkin later on the drive up, okay?" He nods sleepily into her and she turns to give him a quick kiss before shuffling him out the front door and down the steps.
The Cape is beautiful and sunny and they spend all weekend on the beach. Esther takes about a thousand photos, but her favorite is one a stranger took of the three of them on the end of a wharf. They're all squished together in the frame and looking at each other with laughing eyes as the ocean breeze whips their hair around.
She gets it printed out and it lives on the top of the dresser in their bedroom and ever time she sees it, she smiles.