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Getting Somewhere

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Neal knew he was getting somewhere the first time Peter and Elizabeth kissed in front of him.

On the surface, it wasn't a big deal. Neal had come to the Burkes' for breakfast, in part to go over the case with Peter, but also because El made truly phenomenal pancakes, and Neal was willing to occasionally trade off Italian Roast for good home cooking. When they were done, Neal thanked Elizabeth for the wonderful breakfast and got his hat; Peter picked up his briefcase, gave El a kiss goodbye, and went to the door with Neal.

That was huge.

These days Neal wasn't treated to a lecture or even a cursory warning when Peter took off his tracking anklet for an undercover assignment, and that was pretty big. These days Moz and Peter compared notes -- Neal was given to understand that sometimes this happened even when he wasn't around -- and that was kind of a big deal too. But Peter actually forgetting to hustle Neal outside before kissing his wife goodbye? That was, in its way, as crazy and enormous as it had been when Neal admitted he wanted to stay.

The kiss itself was nice too. Neal's thing for Peter was old news, but the better he got to know El, the more he appreciated everything about her too. And seeing Peter and El together, even -- or maybe especially -- in a quick moment of domestic affection, well, there was a lot to appreciate.

The most intriguing thing about it was that it wasn't a one-time incident. It became part of the normal routine: when Neal went to the Burkes' for breakfast, he would catch up with Elizabeth, they would talk shop, El would usually pitch in, and, before they left, she and Peter would kiss each other goodbye with Neal standing right next to them.

Twice was a coincidence, but three times or more became a pattern. Neal would almost have suspected Peter of doing it on purpose, except that wasn't Peter's way of doing things. If he'd known what was going on, he would have been straightforward about it. This left Neal with only one suspect.

He arrived early one morning. El was already down in the kitchen, making omelets this morning, but Neal could hear the shower running upstairs, and Peter was nowhere to be seen. Perfect. He let himself in (and since when had he been the guy who knew which flowerpot they kept the spare key under?) and went to keep El company, slicing mushrooms for her as directed.

"So," Neal said. "Has Peter caught on yet?"

"Uh-oh," El returned, smiling. "I should probably be worried that I have a few things to choose from when you ask that question. Okay, I'll bite. What could he have caught onto?"

These things had to be done a certain way. Neal smiled, a casual, open smile that said he knew exactly what he was talking about, but that it was no big deal if Elizabeth didn't want it to be. "The fact that you're showing off a little," he said. "When you kiss Peter goodbye, you always make sure I'm in your line of sight."

"Do I," El said. "Okay, the mushrooms can go in now. Thanks." She gave Neal a considering look over the sizzling pan. "So what is it you notice?"

Here came the adrenaline spike of running a good con. This was much more important, of course, but that didn't make it any less fun. "You're still very much in love," Neal said, "which I appreciate. That's rare, and it's good to see. You're also easy on the eyes. Both of you."

"Hm. I thought so." Elizabeth flipped the omelet over. "Maybe I am showing off a little. It's nice to know the effort is appreciated."

And that was the end of the conversation. Peter came downstairs, and they proceeded with breakfast as normal. Neal focused on the case. When they got up to leave, El was no more or less subtle in her goodbye kiss than she'd been on previous occasions, and Neal spent the day feeling unusually light and happy. Things weren't different, but he and Elizabeth hadn't broken anything by talking about it.

Work was harried for a few weeks after that, and Peter didn't have any time for leisurely breakfasts. They didn't meet outside of work at all until the case was closed, and when it had been, both Neal and Peter were happy to take a few days to themselves. Then it was an open-and-shut case, just tax fraud, and Neal hated paperwork. Peter invited Neal over for breakfast in what sounded a lot like an apology.

This particular morning things did seem different. It was nothing specific, just a tension in the air, but Neal didn't mind. It had been a long time since he'd felt wary around either Peter or El, so he bided his time, eating and griping good-naturedly about the case. When it was time to go, they went through the usual dance of dishes, hat, and briefcase. Then Elizabeth said, "Have a good day, honey," and kissed Peter. Kissed Peter, long and deep, wrapping her arms around him, and after a moment Peter responded just as enthusiastically as if he'd completely forgotten Neal was in the room, or didn't mind that he was.

By the time El pulled away, Neal felt just as dazed as Peter looked. He was pretty sure there had been more air in the room a minute ago.

Then El turned to Neal, looking very innocent except for the twitch of a smile at the corner of her mouth. "And you have a good day too, Neal," she said, and before he'd quite realized what she was going to do, she was kissing him too, a sweet, exploratory kiss that tasted a little of coffee and mostly of El. It was perfect. Neal held on, and fell a little bit in love with her too.

When she pulled away, Neal looked at Peter. Peter was standing very still, flushed around the collar. He met Neal's eyes and swallowed. "Wow."

For a moment Neal couldn't find his voice. "Since we're going into work together," he said, "it's probably redundant for me to give you a goodbye kiss too."

The silence went on long enough that Neal started to think he might have been wrong, that maybe El hadn't cleared this with Peter, and that things weren't going to be okay. But then Peter said, quiet and sure, "I don't think we should worry about redundancy," and took a step toward Neal.

Neal met him halfway, and when they kissed, Peter tasted a little of coffee too, but mostly of the hundred mistakes and right decisions that had landed Neal in this moment. It was perfect and insane, and Neal felt so safe he was sure he had to be conning himself, but he didn't care, because Peter was kissing him and everything was all right.

"Okay," Peter said, a little shakily. El stepped up to them and he put an arm around her too, and beamed at both of them. "Good. This is good. And now we go to work."