A/N: Immediately following the season 3 finale
It took me nearly five minutes to move from the porch and walk back to my car.
Five long minutes during which time I wanted nothing more than to go back inside. To go into the kitchen and eat pizza and smile and laugh. To be a family again.
But as much as I wanted to do it, I still walked away. Down the steps, along the sidewalk, and back to my car.
I climbed into the driver's seat and stuck the key in the ignition, starting the engine but not making any move to put the car in reverse, and then I once again looked towards the kitchen window.
From this angle, I can see Zach's profile. And I can see Peter's whole face. He's listening to something that Grace must be saying, his head turned slightly to where I know she's sitting, only I can't see her right now.
And he looks happy.
And…something else that I've been trying to forget and yet it's impossible to deny.
He looks really, really sexy.
Lately it seems like I've been thinking about him more often.
Earlier, when he came by my office and casually made the invitation for me to stop by tonight…well, I said no purely out of instinct.
Because the past three years have trained me to say no to him. To not let him in again because the truth of the matter is that I still love him.
Which means he has the power to hurt me.
But when I looked at him as he stood in my doorway, his face filled with pride as he said you made it, I realized that I didn't want to say no to him.
And I'm not saying that I'm ready to jump into bed with him again, or for us to reconcile to the point where we're living together as husband and wife.
But he only invited me to stop by, to see the house…what's the harm in that?
Which is why I decided to go.
And when I got there, he looked really happy to see me.
"I can only stay for a few minutes," I said immediately, kind of like a disclaimer and a warning all rolled up in one: Don't read anything into this.
"A few minutes is better than nothing at all," he replied easily.
His smile and his deep voice and the familiar way that he put his hand on my elbow to guide me through the house…
It all suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks.
I've missed him.
I've missed us.
And I'm not going to lie and say I never had feelings for Will. I did. I still do, in a way, but it's just not the same.
Being with Will was like…finally realizing a dream.
And maybe that doesn't sound quite right.
It's not that it was so good it was like a dream, but just that I'd been thinking about it for so long that it took a few months of being with him before I realized that it was much better in my mind than in reality.
And I don't regret it. Not at all. But I have no desire to go back to him, either.
When Will and I broke up, it did hurt for a while, but now I'm over it.
I'm not over Peter.
But I think my time with Will helped me grow and it actually gave me some perspective. And the knowledge that I was more or less the other woman when it came to him and Tammy…well, that gave me a different outlook, too.
Things happen, and it's not always black and white.
People make mistakes.
It's what we do after the mistake that makes the difference.
And what has Peter done?
He spent time in prison.
He risked going back to prison by violating his house-arrest orders in an effort to come after me.
He gave me the space I needed when I was hurting…he barely fought me at all when I moved him out…he takes my calls and helps with the kids and to my knowledge, he's never said a disparaging word about me.
Not that I'm so blind as to think he's a saint. He certainly has his flaws.
I know he's partly responsible for the investigation into Will's activities.
But at the same time, Will did borrow money from a client. He did violate the canon of ethics.
And after the grand jury refused to indict, I know that Peter reined in Wendy Scott Carr. She wanted to pursue it further, but he said no.
He's working really hard to do the right thing and show some maturity.
And as for the past…
Well, they're just that. The past. I can't keep persecuting him in my mind for what happened so long ago.
Besides, he hasn't dated anyone since this whole mess started, not even after I threw him out of the house.
It makes me think that he really does have hope that one day the two of us will be back together.
I'm not sure where I stand on the matter, but I like that he seems committed to the possibility because I don't want that door to be closed. Not yet, anyway.
As I continued to sit in my idling car, Peter's gaze seemed to meet mine, through the window and across the yard.
Unlikely, since I'm in the dark and he's in a well-lit room, but it feels like it. And for some reason, I get that feeling in the pit of my stomach. That little fluttering sensation of nervousness and excitement and…something else.
But since I can't do anything about it, I put my car in gear and backed out of the driveway.
And then I thought about it all the way home.
And by it I mean I thought about sex with Peter.
Because let's face it.
That's what's on my mind.
Not in the abstract.
Not in the sense of what it'll mean if I give in to my urge.
I didn't even think about what would happen after.
Instead I thought about our last time together.
Our first time together.
The hundreds of times in between.
The time when I was sexually frustrated from bad timing with Will and I went into Peter's room with the shameless intent of using him while picturing Will. Except I ended up never imagining Will at all.
Because that's the thing about us.
We're really, really good together in bed. Even when I was angry with him he could make me forget everything but the feel of him, the touch of his hands...
And how much better will it be now? I mean, now that I'm not angry with him anymore. Because we've moved past the hurt and the bitterness.
Lately it's almost felt like old times.
Except for the lack of physical affection.
I've felt that way for a couple of months, but before now, I haven't wanted to muddy our conciliatory waters with the entanglement of sex.
But tonight...seeing him, in our old house...
It gave me a feeling of undeniable longing to want to experience what we once had.
So in spite of the fact that I just arrived home after a forty-five minute drive, I did a U-turn at the entrance of my parking garage and retraced my steps back to Highland Park.
Back to Peter.
The house was dark when I pulled in the driveway.
This is crazy, I thought as I walked to the front door.
What am I supposed to do now?
Knock, I decided rationally.
Yeah, but then what?
Do I say, I know I've kept you at arm's length for more than a year but tonight I'm in the mood?
Or worse yet, what if one of the kids comes to the door?
Or, God forbid, catch us in a compromising position and then make assumptions about a reconciliation?
It wouldn't be fair to them.
Or to Peter.
I can't do this without considering the ramifications.
He can't be just casual sex.
If I do want to try to have something with him again, then I need to do it the right way.
I sighed heavily and closed my eyes, more disappointed than I've been in a long time.
Because I know I need to go home.
I slowly turned around but before I stepped off the evocative welcome mat, I heard the click of the deadbolt.
"Alicia?" Peter said softly as he opened the door. He must've heard my car in the driveway. He's always been a light sleeper. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I assured him, watching as he pulled open the door fully and then stepped back to let me in.
At nearly midnight.
"I'm...um...I'm sorry," I managed to say, still frozen to the spot. My eyes wandered on their own accord, traveling over him, taking in his bare feet and the dark blue pajama pants and light gray t-shirt.
"For what?" he asked as my eyes returned to his. He smiled that little half-smile of his that almost always makes me smile back. "Were you planning to toilet paper the house?"
"No," I said on a nervous laugh. "No, I..."
"The kids are asleep," he stated when I left my sentence unfinished, and I like how he knows that they're on my mind. "Come on in. I'll make some coffee and we can talk."
So I followed him to the kitchen and as we walked, I debated what to do next.
Tell him the truth about why I came back?
Or make something up?
I was torn, but as he reached to turn on the coffee pot, I finally found my nerve.
"I didn't come here to talk," I said quietly, fidgeting uncharacteristically as he turned around, looking at me in surprise.
I've confused him, I can tell.
Because sex is the furthest thing from his mind, I thought. Maybe I'm the only one thinking about it...
Or maybe he just doesn't consider it an option anymore.
Because he doesn't think that I want him?
Or because he doesn't want me?
That last thought had me tongue tied again.
During the long drive home and back I never once considered that he might not want me.
How egotistical is that, I posed to myself in annoyance.
"Hey," he said gently as he reached out to lightly touch my arm. "It's me."
His words reminded me how we always used to share everything. How we were so attuned to one another…open and honest.
We lost that for a while, and I can be hypocritical and blame it all on him, but I won't, because I was there, too. I turned a blind eye to the shadows and secrecy that fell over our marriage, refusing to believe that anything could ever go wrong.
But maybe we've both learned from our mistakes.
"It bothers you, doesn't it?" he said, since I still couldn't find my voice. "Me, being in this house."
"No," I answered. "It's just…stirred up a lot of memories."
He nodded thoughtfully and leaned back against the counter, and I can tell that he thinks I'm talking about bad memories. The last few months that we lived here.
"Not that," I quantified, moving slightly closer to him and then reaching out to rest my palm against his chest.
His gaze dropped to my hand and then slowly worked its way back up, locking onto mine in a way that sent waves of anticipation through me.
It's almost comical how this moment can be so awkward and familiar and hot all at the same time.
We stood for several long seconds, just staring at each other, and then I forced myself into action. Because seriously, it's what's been on my mind for hours, at least.
So I kissed him.
Aggressively, with the confidence born from thousands of shared kisses.
His hands went around me cautiously, even as he returned the kiss, as though he's afraid I'm going to end it at any moment.
But I don't think I could end it now if I wanted to. It feels every bit as good as I remembered, and I want him every bit as much as I did when we first got together.
Maybe even more because we've been through so much together.
So much that I can't risk hurting him by giving him false hope, the rational side of my brain managed to say before it was completely overpowered.
So I did pull away.
But just barely.
And only so that I could clarify my intent.
"I've missed you," I admitted, my voice sounding husky and strained. "But I can't promise…I mean, I don't know what this'll mean. Or if it means anything. I just…I…don't want you to think…"
"Alicia," he said softly, interrupting my rambling. He moved his hands from my back up to my cheeks, holding my face in his hands in a gesture of adoration. "I don't know what it means either, but I'm willing to go along for the ride and find out."
He capped off his statement with a slow smile and then he leaned in and pressed his lips against mine, lightly yet decisively.
It was so sweet and tender…
Maybe I do have an idea about where I want this to go.
"I don't want to hurt you," I said at last.
"Maybe it's my turn," he acknowledged and his quiet declaration nearly broke my heart.
"No. I think we've both been hurt enough, don't you?"
"Then we'll be honest with each other and take it one day at a time," he reasoned.
I looked into his eyes for another beat and then we both attacked at the same time.
And it was so…liberating and gratifying and…unbelievably sensual. Because we were somehow frantic and yet thorough at the same time. He knows just how to touch me to set me on fire and by the time he pushed into me - confidently and with an air of proprietorship that oddly enough I like – I was on the verge of coming undone.
"God, I've missed you," he whispered, his earnest words burning a path straight to my soul, bringing tears to my eyes.
He started a deep and powerful rhythm while his lips danced over my skin, grazing along my throat, my ear, my cheek…it felt like every stroke was a declaration of his love for me and that thought turned this from a quick and dirty scratching of an itch into…something.
And I'm okay with that.
More than okay, I think.
He adjusted his hold on me, leveraging me against the pantry door so that he was only using one hand to hold me up. With his other hand, he reached for my hand, lacing his fingers through mine and holding it against the door above my head.
The change in position and the sudden increased intensity of his thrusts were enough to send me over the edge and I couldn't stop the moan that escaped as wave after wave of pleasure rolled through me. He quickly brought his mouth to mine, kissing me until the moment passed, and then he pulled back and looked at me with a smug smile on his face.
"I forgot how loud you can be," he remarked in amusement.
"Wait 'til it's your turn," I replied and I can't help but smile back. "Maybe we should take this outside."
"Or you can just kiss me," he countered, his voice low and his gaze intense as he slowed the pace to one of long, purposeful strokes.
And damn if he doesn't have me close.
My eyes wanted to close against the onslaught of amazing sensations, but at the same time, I don't want to look away from him. So I kept my eyes locked on his as I slid my free hand around to the back of his head and pulled him down to me so that I could kiss him.
And the kiss was…perfect. Emotional and sensual…just as orgasm-inspiring as his incredible rhythm, and it wasn't long before I felt his muscles tense and the tempo changed again and knowing that he's close sends a fresh flood of arousal through me, and I could hear him moan, but I kept kissing him as we rode it out together.
"I don't want it to be over," he murmured quietly, his forehead against the door and his cheek next to mine.
"We are pretty good at that, aren't we?" I replied on a contented sigh.
"Oh yeah," he agreed enthusiastically. "But I mean…now you're leaving, right?"
It's a sobering thought.
Because he's right.
I need to leave and even though I knew how this would go before I got here, I never once imagined that I'd want to stay as desperately as I do.
But I can't be here when the kids wake up.
"I guess so," I agreed.
He straightened up and kissed me lingeringly before releasing his hold on me. We spent the next couple of minutes in silence, putting ourselves back together and studiously ignoring the possibility that we may have just made a huge mistake.
Except we didn't, I argued silently.
Just because I don't have all of the answers, I do know that it's worth the effort to see where this might go.
"Hey," he said quietly as I slipped into my jacket. He brought his palm to my cheek again, gently running his thumb near the edge of my ear. "I meant what I said earlier. I'm good for the ride, okay? Just because I'm disappointed that I can't spend more time with you doesn't change the fact that I understand it."
"I wish I could say something more definitive. It's not fair for me to take without giving anything in return."
"I think you gave pretty good," he said, that half-smile back on his face.
I smiled back at him and wrapped my arms around him, hugging him to me as I let out a heavy sigh.
"But just so we're clear on the facts," he continued. "I want you back. And God knows I'm the one who screwed everything up, but I never stopped loving you."
I want to say it back to him. I want to tell him that I may not be sure about anything else, but I do know that I still love him.
Instead, I kissed him one last time and then pulled away.
"I should go," I said.
He nodded thoughtfully, but stayed rooted to the spot for a moment, and just as I was ready to turn and leave, he took a step towards me and reached for my hand.
"I'll walk you out," he offered.
We made our way back to the front door and then stepped out onto the porch, once again standing on the welcome mat.
"I'm really glad you came," he said as he brought our joined hands to his lips.
This is that sweetness and sincerity that made me fall for him in the first place…and it's still there.
We're still us, only maybe with a greater sense of how easy it can be to lose it all.
"Me, too," I answered. "Maybe we can…I don't know. Have dinner some time."
"I'll call you," he promised.
We stared at each other for a moment and I know that I need to leave, but it's every bit as hard as it was hours ago, when I stood here the first time.
Harder, maybe even.
Because sex with Peter is only part of what I've been missing.
What we're doing now – talking and being affectionate and…just being together – I've missed that, too.
But it's late and the kids are upstairs and it's past time for me to go.
So I leaned in and pressed my lips against his cheek lingeringly and then I moved away, heading for the stairs.
I didn't look back until I got to the sidewalk, and when I did, I saw that he was in the same spot, his bare feet on the mat and the loose drawstring on his pajama pants that he hadn't bothered to retie dangling below the hem of his t-shirt and his hair that was going in every direction, rumpled from when I ran my fingers through it…and he wore an expression of contentment mixed with a little bit of sadness.
I paused and flashed him a smile, and then I thought about what he said earlier.
We'll be honest with each other and take it one day at a time.
"I never stopped loving you, either," I confessed. "I was mad as hell at you for a while. And hurt…very hurt. But I've always loved you."
"So there's hope," he said carefully.
"I think so," I agreed with a nod.
He visibly relaxed and then said, "Call me when you get home. So that I know you're safe."
"It's a long drive," I reminded him.
"I know. I'll wait."