Peter knows all of Elias’ sighs. He likes to collect them, keep them on shelves in his mind to be taken down and admired when he is away on long trips at sea. There’s the short, sharp I’m about to correct what you just said wrong sigh, the tired but affectionate I’m pretending to complain but please don’t stop, Peter sigh, the deep, genuine if I have to explain this simple concept again I’m going to beat you to death with a pipe sigh that usually comes with closed eyes and a scrunched brow, and of course, Peter’s personal favorite, the I hate everyone in the world right now except you sigh.
The sigh Elias gives him now is…well, it’s a doozy. Somewhere between the classic get the hell out of my Institute I’m trying to do my job and the more favorable if I don’t talk to a genuine adult about my frustrations soon I’m going to have an aneurysm. In Peter’s experience, he only counts as an adult in Elias’ book about sixty percent of the time, but it’s a risk he’s willing to take.
“What’s wrong, darling?” Peter lets his fog trail off behind him as he steps fully into Elias’ office and runs a soothing hand along his husband’s shoulder blades. Elias fiddles with the papers on his desk, but leans back into Peter’s hand, so he can’t be too upset about the interruption.
Elias closes his eyes, and for a vulnerable second he almost looks as exhausted as that mess of an Archivist of his. Peter makes a mental note to buy him some of those fancy floral face creams he’s been seeing so many adverts for. Maybe one that smells like dahlias or something. He’ll ask a shop girl which one’s best, they’re bound to know.
“Now is a really bad time, Peter,” Elias says.
“I recall you saying the same thing the third time I proposed to you, but we still made it work then, didn’t we?” Elias snorts out a breath that is almost a laugh and Peter grins as brightly as he can, situating his smiling face in front of Elias’ eyes just as he opens them. “There we are, that’s better. Now go on, tell me what’s wrong. Is it that same…what was it, scheduling snafu from last week?”
“The meeting with the accounting firm that overlapped with the auditors? No, luckily that particular disaster is behind me.” Elias pushes two fingers into the space between his eyebrows. That means headache. On his way out, Peter will send in Rosie with a glass of water. Elias forgets things like hydration frightfully easily. He’s got too much on his shoulders. Speaking of, Peter slides his hand up Elias’ back to his shoulder and steps around behind him. Slowly, he presses his thumbs deep into the muscles of Elias’ back and begins to give him a massage.
When he slides his hands up and works at the back of Elias’ neck, he’s rewarded with a breathy little sigh that is almost a moan. It says what would I do without you? and it keeps Peter warm on his long, cold journeys.
“So what is it then? Because your shoulders are quite unhappy.”
“It’s Melanie.” Elias leans back into Peter’s hands and drops his chin to his chest, letting out all his breath in one huge exhalation of I work with literal children.
“The new girl?”
Elias nods loosely. “She’s on her way here now to murder me.”
Peter’s hands stop moving for a second before he regains his composure. “I guess I can see why it might be a bad time for my visit.”
“Would you like me to come back after you’re dead, then?” Peter leans forward and kisses the top of Elias’ ear. This time, Elias laughs genuinely, and beneath Peter’s hands a bit of the tension spills away.
“I wasn’t planning on letting her succeed.”
“Oh, you are a cruel boss. And after she worked so hard?”
“Maybe I’d be more inclined to if she had. Her methods are frightfully incompetent.” Elias shrugs Peter’s hands off his shoulders so that he can swivel his chair around to face his husband completely. “Sleeping pills. In a coffee.”
Peter lays a hand over his chest and gasps in mock horror. “No.”
“They’re not even fully dissolved.”
“Well.” Peter runs a hand through Elias’ hair, scratching lightly at the base of his skull. “That is frankly insulting. Would you like me to duel her in your honor? People still duel, right?”
Elias hides his smile by turning his face into Peter’s arm and kissing him on the wrist. “You really ought to spend less time on that ship of yours.”
“But if I did, how would you miss me?”
“Fair point, Captain Lukas, fair point.” Elias guides Peter’s hand off his head and interlaces their fingers, dropping their joined hands into his lap. “But I still think my aggrieved husband with a pistol is more of a third strike kind of punishment.”
“Well, I’m here when you need me.”
Elias looks up at Peter with a soft kind of smile, and then his eyes get distant and Peter knows he’s Looking somewhere else. He comes back with a bitten off curse and a loose, tired sigh that tells Peter Melanie is down the hall.
“I’ll be out of your hair then.” Peter leans down and presses a quick kiss to Elias’ lips. Could use lip balm. They might have some at the same place they carry fancy face cream. Worth checking. “Please don’t kill the children while I’m gone.”
“I’ll do my best,” Elias says, and lets out a tiny sigh through his nose. It is soft, and yearning. It says I wish you could stay. Peter wraps it up, memorizes it, and tucks it away for another time.