It was a quiet morning at the B&B for once, although Steve was pretty sure that was nothing more than a temporary state. Neither Pete nor Claudia had risen from their deep, deep (and in Pete’s case, noisy) slumbers. It was almost eight in the morning. Myka, Abigail, and Steve were enjoying the silence together in the sun room, the smell of coffee wafting through the air.
“It’s almost time,” Steve whispered, but Abigail forced up a finger to silence him.
“No. It’s not even eight yet. Let us have this.”
Steve shrugged, but he knew it wouldn’t last. Myka slowly turned to look across the threshold at the stairs, holding up three fingers, then two, then one, then-
“Mykaaaaaa,” Pete cried as he trampled down the staircase, still pulling a shirt on over his head. Steve managed to look away before he got caught staring.
“Peeeeete,” Myka called back, the corner of her mouth turning up. “Good morning, partner.”
Pete stopped at the table, pulling down on his shirt and frowning. There was a sliver of skin showing below the bottom hem of the fabric. “I think my shirt shrank in the wash,” he muttered, looking down at himself. “Does this look right?”
“Pete, that shirt is ancient. If it was going to shrink, it would have already done so,” Myka said, returning to her paper.
“I don’t know.” Pete looked over at Steve, who averted his eyes. Steve could feel the grin on Pete’s face before he even said, “What do you think, Jinksy? This shirt getting tight on me?”
“Maybe you’re just getting fat,” Steve replied, refusing to look back at Pete.
“Ouch.” The genuine hurt in Pete’s voice made Steve look up at him. He was looking down at himself with a new purpose now, slowly sliding a hand over his stomach. “Am I really gaining that much weight?”
Steve closed his eyes and centered himself before answering. “No, Pete. I’m sorry. That was a bad joke.”
The sunny grin reappeared on Pete’s face. “Still got it, huh?”
Steve made a strained smile and turned away. Yep. It was gonna be one of those days.
“A little weight gain is natural as part of the grieving cycle,” Abigail said. “I know we’ve all come to terms with the Warehouse moving eventually, but I expect we’ll all have some lingering changes. Maybe a slightly larger waistline is yours.”
Pete made a pouty face at this, clearly unhappy with such a conclusion. “That’s it. I’m gonna start jogging.”
“No, you’re not,” Myka offered, eyes still on her newspaper.
Pete nodded. “Ok, maybe not. But maybe I can start running around the Warehouse instead of walking. Yeah? Would that work?”
The response he received from the table was lukewarm at best, but Steve gave him a smile. “Sure, Pete. Little changes can often lead to the largest transformations.”
Pete grinned. “Buddha?”
Steve narrowed his eyes in confusion. “Steve Jinks.”
Pete pulled at his shirt some more as he turned and walked out of the sun room, presumably to get some breakfast. Steve watched him leave, a mixture of amusement and concern on his face.
Myka was looking up at him from her newspaper, a smile gracing her lips. “So when are you going to tell him?”
Steve’s attention snapped to Myka, his eyebrows arched. He kept his face neutral, despite the cold chill that just ran down his spine. “Tell who what now?”
Myka’s eyes found Abigail’s and they shared a knowing glance before the latter said in a hushed tone, “We’ve seen how you watch Pete leave the room. And when you know he can’t see you.”
Steve leaned back in his chair and lazily scratched the back of his neck. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he lied. The truth was that he had started noticing Pete more and more since coming back to life, and his somewhat childish outbursts about the Warehouse leaving had only proven to cement Pete in Steve’s mind as passionate and stalwart, two things he greatly valued in a partner. It was becoming a problem if other people were starting to notice.
He hadn’t even told Claudia.
“Yeah, c’mon, Steve. You know no one would care.” Myka reached over and poked him in the arm. “I say go for it.”
Steve laughed and moved back from the table. “This conversation is over. Have a nice day, ladies.”
As Steve exited the sun room, he nearly slammed into Pete, who had stuffed a bagel into his mouth and was holding two more on a small plate. He hummed a hello as they brushed past each other. Steve slowed as he made his way to the stairs, taking note of the slight tingling he felt where their arms had touched.
Ugh. He had it bad.
Later that morning, the team gathered in the Warehouse to start a maintenance inventory check. Myka and Claudia had taken the Ovoid Quarantine, while Pete and Steve were assigned to the Farnsworth aisle and several surrounding areas. When the pairings were announced, Steve protested, saying he worked better with Claudia, but Artie wouldn’t have it.
“You work just as well with Pete as you do with Claudia, now get out there,” Artie had barked.
Steve could still see the smile on Myka’s face as he’d left the office trailing behind Pete.
Still, inventory was safe enough, and Pete seemed to be in a good mood, so there wasn’t much to complain about.
“Hey, Steve, can you hand me the Transistor Box?” Pete asked. He was on the cherry picker, up near the top of the aisle. How, exactly, Steve was supposed to just “hand” him the largest box of assorted Farnsworth/Tesla junk in the Warehouse, he had no idea.
“Oh, sure. Let me just toss it up.”
Pete mock laughed. “Appreciating the attempt at humor, but I’m serious.”
What. “How am I supposed to get it up there?”
“I don’t know! It won’t fit on the cherry picker, will it?”
Steve took a look at the rather large box, then up at the cherry picker platform. He shook his head. “Not with you up there with it.”
Pete frowned. “Again with the fat thing?”
Steve sighed. “No. Not with the-”
The hair on the back of Steve’s neck stood on end, and Pete cried out in surprise as a large energy discharge went shooting down the aisle. It slammed into the cherry picker, which teetered dangerously. The energy from the discharge must have activated one of the automatic releases on the vehicle, as the neck shortened a few feet before the platform tipped over, launching Pete through the air.
Steve rushed forward and reached up like he was chasing a football in flight. Pete slammed into him, tossing both of them to the ground. Steve hit his elbow on the ground during the fall, but was otherwise unharmed. However, Pete was considerably heavier than he was, and was now splayed out on top of him.
Pete gasped as he propped himself up onto his hands and knees over Steve’s prone form. “Oh. Oh wow. Thanks man. I owe you one.”
Steve groaned a little, afraid to open his eyes. He knew what he’d see the moment he did.
“Jinksy? You okay, man?”
Steve cracked open an eye and immediately regretted it. Pete’s face was close. Why was it so close? “I’m okay, Pete. Get up. I can’t move.”
“Oh, right. Right.” Steve safely opened his eyes to see Pete shuffling his way to sitting on his feet, concern drifting across his face. “You sure you’re okay? I’m not a small guy and you took that full-on.”
“I’m fine,” Steve repeated, staggering to his feet. “Are you okay?”
Pete shrugged. “No, I’m great. You probably saved me a trip to a hospital bed with that catch.”
“Well then, I guess you do owe me one.” Steve rubbed his sore elbow as he surveyed the aisle. “What caused that discharge?”
Pete made it to his feet, as well. “I don’t know. The gooery’s operational. Regular spritzes have been going off like usual. Is maybe something out of whack here, in the aisle?”
Steve tried to take stock of the items on the nearby shelves, but there were so many that could potentially be misfiled, his head started spinning at the thought of cataloguing them. “I have no idea. It could be anything.”
“Kinda wishing we had Leena,” Pete muttered.
“Maybe your vibe can help?”
“It doesn’t really work that way.” Pete stopped, staring at a specific item on a nearby shelf. “Wait. Nope. It does totally work that way. This. Over here.”
Steve approached the item Pete pointed to, immediately recognizing it as out of place. The Farnsworth and Tesla aisles were mostly technology-inspired Artifacts, but sitting blatantly incorrect was a silk shawl draped over several mechanical gizmos Steve didn’t recognize.
“What is that?” Pete asked.
Steve had already pulled out his Farnsworth and was signaling Artie. “Don’t know, but it definitely doesn’t belong here.”
“What is it?” Artie’s voice sounded from the little screen in Steve’s hand.
“We found something out of place,” Steve said, flipping the device around so Artie could see the shawl. “What is that thing, Artie?”
There was a moment of pause before Artie started mumbling. “Is that Godiva’s shawl?”
Pete snorted. “Godiva? Like the chocolates?”
Steve rolled his eyes. “Lady Godiva. The woman who supposedly rode a horse through town, nude, in protest of tax laws.”
“I know who Lady Godiva was,” Pete countered, almost offended. “Like I’d forget a legend about a naked lady.”
“Common misconception,” Artie said. “She wasn’t totally nude. She wore a shawl, for some reason, and it soaked up all the potential embarrassment she would have felt at being gawked at by all those people, even though only one man did. Became the first Peeping Tom. Don’t touch the shawl. It prevents you from feeling shame and emboldens you, but also removes all logic from your actions. Basically, if you think about doing it, you do it. That is not a state you want to be in for very long.”
Steve shook his head. “Nope. Got it. Do we know where it belongs?”
Artie grumbled, thinking. “Err, no.”
“Thanks, Artie. We’ll figure it out.” Steve closed the Farnsworth and made sure his hands were fully gloved.
Pete’s face contorted with thought as Steve procured the shawl. “So it probably goes in the, what, Medieval stuff, right?”
“Yeah, but we can’t just go throwing it on a shelf and hoping it lands right,” Steve replied. “I’ll take it to the Spiral.”
Pete’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, can I watch?”
Steve had already started walking. “No.”
“Aw, c’mon, Jinksy! You never let me watch.”
“I have to be centered to use the Spiral, Pete, and you watching makes me-”
“Nervous?” The smile in Pete’s voice was obvious.
“Uncentered,” Steve finished.
“Please? I won’t say a word.”
Steve stopped and sighed, turning to look at his cohort. “Why do you want to watch me sit on a stool so badly?”
Pete looked down, one of his feet scuffing the floor. He reminded Steve of a child who had just been scolded. “It could be the last time I have the chance, right? The Warehouse is moving soon.”
Steve rolled his eyes. Pete always did have an affinity for the more mystical aspects of the Warehouse, but to think he’d be this upset at not being able to see the Spiral at work again was both annoying and endearing. “Fine. But stand where I can’t see you, and don’t say anything once I’m sitting down. Got it?”
Pete grinned. “Got it.”
Steve led the way to the Spiral, ears filled with Pete’s heavy footfalls behind him. He didn’t normally do this with an audience, and Pete of all people was likely to be an issue with accurately reading the Artifact. With a heavy sigh, he opened the corridor leading to their destination. Soon, they stood at the outer edge of the serene, circular room.
The silence was deafening. Steve could hear his heart pounding in his ears, even if it wasn’t beating very hard. That was the effect of the Spiral - it was an Artifact all its own, that helped the user to focus inwardly and share their existence with the Artifact they held. It was dangerous if misused, but exceedingly helpful to the Warehouse agents when used correctly. It held a special place in Steve’s heart, as it gave him a sense of purpose within the Warehouse beyond being an agent; although anyone could use the Spiral on a good day, Steve’s consistency with it had been uniquely high since Leena’s passing.
Steve gave one last forceful glance to Pete, who held up his hands in surrender as he stood still near the door. Artifact in hand, he made his way to the stool in the center of the room, the shawl in hand.
Steve turned on the stool and looked at Pete, trying to bury his irritation. “What?”
Pete was smiling about something, but he shook his head. “No, nevermind. I’ll be quiet.”
With a bit of a sigh to release his annoyance, Steve turned away from Pete and closed his eyes, feeling the weight and presence of the shawl in his hands. He could feel the warmth of the Spiral fill him, searching him and the shawl both. On the other side of his closed eyelids, he saw the passing flash of the sigils on the floor as the Spiral did its magic.
Finally, the warmth faded and the flashing halted. Steve opened his eyes and looked for the illuminated spot on the floor. It was behind him, in a section of the room he didn’t see often.
Pete, who stood next to the translated key near the door, glanced at the sigil and then the key. “It says…’Secretive.’”
That was odd. Steve ran through the legend of Godiva in his head. She’d instructed the townsfolk to close their doors and windows to avoid being seen in the nude, but he hardly considered it secretive. The townspeople knew she would be out there, and they knew she’d be in the buff.
“Let me try again,” Steve offered. “If it says Secretive again, so be it, but that doesn’t sound right.”
Pete nodded, putting his hands behind his back in silence.
Steve concentrated once more, again focusing on his place in the room, the Warehouse, and everything. The Spiral’s lights began again, searching for the perfect place to land. The search felt like it took longer this time, but Steve kept his eyes gently shut until it ended.
This time, the sigil was in a different spot, this time closer to Pete and the exit. Pete examined the results and identified it on the key. “Oh. Uh.”
That didn’t sound good. “What is it?”
Steve narrowed his eyes. What? He looked down at the shawl in his hands, confused. Was the Spiral reading the Artifact correctly? Was this the shawl from Godiva? Was Artie wrong?
No, Artie was never wrong when it came to identifying things already in the Warehouse.
“Everything okay?” Pete asked, his tone tentative. There was something in the way he asked that bothered Steve.
“Yeah,” Steve answered, “but I don’t think the Spiral is working on the Artifact.”
Pete shifted his weight nervously. “So, what, is it reading you, instead? Have you been having ‘hidden emotion’ or something?”
There was definitely something about Pete’s inflection that was out of place. Steve gave him a suspicious look. “Did you vibe something on the way in?”
Pete scoffed, smiling in the way he always did when he didn’t want to lie. “Yeah, but it wasn’t anything-”
“It was a good vibe. You know how rare those are,” he replied.
Steve shrugged in his confusion. “Good about what? The shawl? The Spiral?”
Pete halfway flinched, his eyes apologetic. “About you.”
Oh. Oh shit. That’s what Pete tried to mention when they’d first arrived. “...What about me, Pete?” His voice was but a whisper. Steve couldn’t seem to raise his voice. In fact, he couldn’t even look at Pete.
“That you belonged. In here.” Pete cleared his throat and averted his eyes, as well. “With me.”
Steve snapped his eyes to Pete’s form. He didn’t look like the bumbling oaf everyone was familiar with. He looked reserved. Vulnerable. He was just as uncomfortable with this as Steve.
“With you? What do you mean?” There was an audible waver in Steve’s voice, despite his most desperate attempt to keep it steady.
Pete moved to the center of the Spiral, his eyes searching every corner of the circular room to avoid landing on Steve. Once he was within arm’s reach, however, he smiled at his fellow agent. “Let me try.”
Now Steve was really confused. “The Spiral? You?”
Pete rolled his eyes. “Just give me the shawl, Jinksy.”
Steve hesitated, but he handed the shawl to Pete and moved off of the stool. Before Pete sat down, however, he removed one of his neutralizing gloves.
He grabbed the shawl with the ungloved hand and draped it over his shoulders.
There was a slight glow as the shawl took effect. Pete’s back straightened, his shoulders squared, and his eyes gained a sense of determination that was mostly unfamiliar to Steve. Before the ATF agent knew what was happening, Pete reached out and grabbed Steve by the shoulders, bringing their faces straight into a forceful, passionate kiss. Steve’s mind screamed at him to pull back, but every other part of him told him to stay. He stopped what little struggle he’d made, instead closing his eyes and leaning into the kiss. Pete’s lips were rough, but he was experienced. It was...nice. Good. No, great.
Steve cursed to himself. Pete was a great kisser.
They broke apart, Pete’s eyes still locked on Steve’s. There was a gentle smile there that they shared, and the Spiral seemed to notice. The sigils lit up and circled the room, landing on a sigil Steve had seen multiple times before: “deep affection.”
When Steve laughed at the Spiral’s sense of humor, Pete smiled. “I love your laugh,” he said.
Steve stifled another laugh. The shawl had removed Pete’s filter. He could say anything right now and not care. “Let’s get the shawl off of you, okay, pal? Wouldn’t want you to say anything we’d both regret.” He reached for the shawl, but Pete grabbed his hand with both of his.
“Let me say it now so I can say it all,” Pete insisted.
Steve hesitated, but nodded. His heart was hammering in his chest. What all was Pete about to admit to him?
“Back then,” Pete said, “back when I was so obnoxious about you being gay, it was because I was jealous. You got to be you. I thought that I could be part of that by being someone you liked.”
The memory of Pete taking off his shirt just for him flooded Steve’s mind. Steve felt his cheeks warming with the memory.
“I didn’t really know I could have feelings for a guy, but as you became a bigger part of the team, feelings started popping up. I didn’t know what they were at first, but I think it really started becoming clear after the Metronome was destroyed.” Pete smiled, somewhat shakily despite the shawl. “You were brave and compassionate and such a good friend. I started wondering about what ifs and maybes, but I was always so scared to admit what I was feeling that I just hid behind being a big kid and annoying you.”
Steve swallowed hard. “So, what exactly are you admitting?”
Pete didn’t flinch or hesitate at all, thanks to the shawl. “I like you, Steve. I have romantic feelings for you, and you look really good in jeans. Like really good. Which is weird, because I don’t ever see you working out.”
“It’s the gay gene,” Steve said with a mockingly sad shake of his head. They both laughed.
“Whatever it is, you’re amazing, and I want to be with you.”
The blush was in full effect. Steve could feel it. “I, uh.” He cleared his throat. “Thank you, Pete. That means a lot to me.”
“And with the Warehouse moving, I was scared I was going to run out of time to tell you how I felt. But the thought of talking about it terrified me even more.”
Steve looked down at his hands, which Pete still held in his. “I’m glad you did tell me.”
“I was kind of surprised I could keep it a secret from the Human Lie Detector.”
“You have to talk about it for me to tell if you’re lying,” Steve replied. “I never brought it up because I was too scared of my own feelings.”
Pete smiled. “Oh? Is this where you admit your ‘hidden emotions,’ too?”
There was a nervous chuckle. He could do this without the shawl, right? “Since Claudia brought me back, I’ve...well, I’ve noticed you more and more. The youthful energy, the jokes, your body. For some reason, you started looking like someone I wanted to be with. Being with Liam again was weird, because, as great as that was, I wanted it to be you.”
“Death changes us, I guess,” Pete said with a laugh. He reached up to Steve’s face and cupped his cheek. “But hey. Maybe we can give this a shot?”
Steve reached up and removed the shawl from Pete’s shoulders. There was another slight glow as the Artifact’s effect left his body, but his posture didn’t change, nor did his resolute eye contact. “You okay?”
Pete’s smile was warm and genuine. His eyes glistened. “I’m great.”
Steve reached up and put his hand over Pete’s on his cheek. “I think I am, too. Let’s get this thing sorted and get back to our job, okay? We have plenty of time to explore this, now that it’s out in the open.”
Pete sighed. “Okay. But, uh, you mind not telling Myks just yet?”
“Oh, I doubt she’ll be that surprised.”
Steve twitched a little. “She knew about my side of this.”
“I bet that was rough.”
“Honestly? She was pretty cool about it.”
“Myks is a good friend.”
“She is.” Steve held up the shawl. “Okay. One last go at this. I think the Warehouse’s played matchmaker enough today.”
Pete grinned. “I’ll leave you to it.” He leaned forward and gave Steve a gentle kiss on the cheek before turning and leaving Steve alone in the Spiral, both of their faces red.
Steve looked down at the Spiral’s sigils, a smile on his face. “Okay. You win. We’re together now. Can I do my job now, please?”
The smell of apples told him he could.