They're quiet as they get ready for bed – Peter, brushing his teeth in the master bathroom, while Elizabeth changes into her pajamas – but it's a soft, reassuring silence… the peace at the end of a raging gale.
When Peter comes out of the bathroom, El's sitting at her dressing table, looking up at him with troubled eyes.
"I just keep picturing the look on his face…"
"I know." Peter frowns, nodding with a heavy sigh as he moves behind her, crouching down to wrap his arms around her shoulders and meeting her eyes again in the mirror. "I think… I think sometimes, we forget. He – he hasn't had – this, before. He doesn't know… what normal is, you know?"
El nods. "In his world, when people fight, they don't… kiss and make up at the end, they…" She pauses, uncertainty crinkling that spot between her eyes in that way that Peter finds so adorable. "… well, I don't know really. What do they do?"
Peter shakes his head slowly, thoughts drifting down paths he doesn't want to explore. "Leave," he finally guesses sadly. "Or… I don't know. From what I understand, his mom wasn't exactly… stable, after… his dad. So… leave, maybe, yeah. Or… maybe worse."
El closes her eyes, visibly flinching at that, and Peter feels a deep heaviness in his chest. It seems impossible that Neal could have considered, even for a moment, that one of them might have actually walked out and left the other, or worse, struck out at the other in violence – but he really doesn't know what was going on in Neal's head tonight, does he? Neal's thoughts, as usual, are a mystery to Peter tonight.
But for just a moment, amidst the unfamiliar, unpleasant heat of the argument he and Elizabeth had tonight – the shroud around Neal's thoughts, emotions, fears… slipped, and Peter saw bewildered, almost panicked confusion in his eyes – and it stopped him in his tracks.
Even in the midst of fighting, Peter and Elizabeth read each other with intimate clarity, and Elizabeth stopped yelling an instant after Peter's eyes met Neal's, reading something in Peter's face, something that told her there was something more pressing at the moment than her fierce, tearful anger.
Elizabeth stares down at her hands now, twisting her ring on her finger, biting her lower lip, and Peter's hand gently reaches around to cup hers from beneath, almost reverently framing the symbol of the commitment they made to each other so many years ago – a commitment that couldn't ever be changed by a single heated exchange of words.
Even when they fight, Peter and Elizabeth don't say things they couldn't take back – don't seek to actively hurt each other – don't do it for any reason other than that they love each other so much. Tonight, for example, El's fury was born of a close call Peter had on his most recent case, a chance she feels he took that was too far, too much of a risk with his safety.
She yelled, and raged, and cried with tears streaking her face, only because she can't bear the thought of losing him.
The idea of either one of them walking away willingly is unthinkable.
But Neal… well, he's had too many people he's loved walk away from him willingly, hasn't he?
He's asleep now, in the guest room, though they tried to convince him that that was silly, that he should just come to bed with them in their room, as usual. He was calm at that point, at least on the surface reassured by their insistence that this fight was nothing to worry about, that they would work things out. But he'd quietly, firmly stated that that was just all the more reason for him to leave them alone tonight – to work things out.
Peter isn't sure that's the entire reason; he thinks Neal still feels a little insecure, a little raw to be so close to them. Maybe he just isn't sure if he'll be able to hide his fears, to keep on keeping it together, if they're touching him, wrapped around him in their big, soft bed where the walls seem to slip down with more and more ease each night that they spend together.
"Maybe in the long run this is a good thing," Peter suggests, hushed and reassuring. "Maybe he needs to see that… arguments can happen, without… tearing everything down with them."
"He doesn't get it," El whispers, heartbroken, leaning her head back onto Peter's shoulder. "He doesn't… know how love works at all, does he? I think… maybe no one's ever shown him. Ever... loved him like he loved them, you know?"
"We do," Peter states softly, turning his head to tenderly kiss the side of her mouth. "And… we will."