The floor creaked under Clinton's bare feet as he walked across the room to where Neal was spooning coffee grounds into the metal percolator. Neal turned around halfway and smiled just as Clinton stepped up behind him and wound his arms around Neal's waist. He liked wrapping Neal up close to him, feeling the slim yet solid, body right up against his own.
"Morning," Clinton mumbled, pressing his mouth to Neal's neck, and then rested his chin on Neal's shoulder. "What's cooking?"
"Just coffee. I don't have any real food, just a refrigerator full of h'orderves, so I was thinking we could stop for bagels on the way into the office," Neal replied. He wiggled up against Clinton's bare body and chuckled. "You know, walking around naked in here is a hazard. There's the windows--"
"I don't care."
"--and Mozzie comes and goes as he pleases."
"The door's locked."
"Do you think that's going to stop him?"
Clinton hesitated before he replied, fully considering Neal's words. "I think I'll go take a shower."
Neal grinned and gently elbowed Clinton in the stomach. "Good plan."
Clinton hadn't spent a lot of nights at Neal's place, but he liked staying there. The antique bed was small for two grown men, but comfortable, and there was always wine and fruit sitting on the table. However, his favorite thing was the old fashioned bath tub, complete with golden claw feet. It was huge, probably large enough to fit both of them if they ever wanted to, though Clinton couldn't see himself suggesting it. As nice as it sounded, they'd only been seeing each other for a few months. Were they to the point of bathing together? He wasn't sure.
After he dried off, Clinton wrapped his towel around his waist and slipped out of the bathroom. All of his clothes were out in the main room where he'd shed them the night before. He had tried to get everything to land on the sofa where they wouldn't get too wrinkled. He was going to wear the same suit again today and hoped no one noticed. Of course, working with trained Federal agents, someone was bound to notice.
Clinton walked down the hall and stopped in front of the door when he heard Neal talking to someone. He didn't exactly want to be caught in his towel in front of June or Mozzie, but then his stomach turned to ice at the sound of Peter's voice.
"If you don't need a ride... do you have a woman here? Or not a woman." Peter's voice got a little higher with surprise, but there was no judgment.
"How do you know that's not mine?" Neal asked.
Clinton could practically hear Peter's withering look as he said, "I may not know much about suits, but I do know that's not your size."
Neal hesitated and then he sighed loudly. "He's in the shower. And I'd really prefer it if you weren't here when he came out, if you know what I mean."
"I do. I'll see you at the office."
Clinton waited until he heard the door open and close before stepping out into the main room. "Is it safe?" he asked softly, just in case Peter was still outside in the hall.
"Yeah, come on out," Neal said. He was leaning against the kitchen counter with his arms crossed over his chest. He let his arms drop as he smiled at Clinton. "You didn't answer me about the bagels."
"I don't care about bagels," Clinton replied, annoyance and frustration suddenly rising within him. "Peter was here."
"He drove Elizabeth to work this morning, and I'm only a few blocks away. He just thought he'd see if I needed a ride."
"I don't care why he was here, he was here. What if he'd shown up any other time this morning? Is that the kind of risk we can take?"
Neal frowned. "What do you want to do? Go to your place? Because he'd figure it out pretty fast if we did that." He held out his left leg, reminding Clinton of the tracking anklet.
"So, do you think maybe..." Clinton's words trailed off because he didn't want to say it. They shouldn't have gotten involved in the first place. They worked together, sometimes closely (which was how all of this started in the first place). Neal was a convicted felon, and Clinton hadn't forgotten that.
Neal's eyes widened and he crossed the room, cupping Clinton's face in his hands. "No, no, no. You are not breaking up with me, not over this. I..." Neal grinned as his words trailed off. Clinton's breath caught in his throat, but instead of finishing his sentence, Neal kissed him. "Get dressed. Bagels are on me."
They took the subway downtown (even with Neal protesting that they should take a cab, but Clinton flat refused to spend thirty dollars to get to work) and Neal led Clinton into a deli where they each got a bagel. Neal got another coffee, and he smiled, but didn't comment, when Clinton picked up a pint of milk.
"I can't believe you don't have your bagels toasted," Neal said as they walked down the sidewalk toward the Federal building.
"This is delicious. It doesn't need to be toasted." Clinton took a large bite of his blueberry bagel that he'd had slathered with cream cheese. He held it out to Neal. "Try it," he said, his mouth half full.
"I'll take your word for it," Neal replied with a laugh. He reached up and wiped cream cheese away from the corner of Clinton's mouth.
Once they were within a block of the office, they were all professional, even though Clinton couldn't help but admire Neal's ass in his perfectly fitting trousers after holding the door open for him. In the close quarters of the elevator, it was everything he could do not to drop to his knees and blow Neal right there. Instead, he glanced over at Neal and got a knowing grin in return.
It was easier to keep himself in check when other people were around. Clinton sat at his desk (which, conveniently or inconveniently, depending on how he felt in that moment, faced Neal's desk) and got to work. He'd been sitting there for less than half an hour when he felt a hand rest on his shoulder. He looked up and Peter was standing there.
"What can I do for you, Peter?" Clinton asked, leaning back in his chair.
"Try to find me a connection between Roy Fisher and Kevin Mandela," Peter replied. They'd been working on the Fisher case for weeks, and while Mandela had a history of counterfeiting, he had yet to be caught. "I know it seems out of left field, but I've got a hunch."
Clinton grinned and a held up a hand in surrender. "I'm not going to argue with the gut."
"Good man," Peter said with a laugh. He paused and considered Clinton for a moment, like there was something else he wanted to say. He gave Clinton's shoulder a quick pat and said, "Nice suit," then walked away.
Clinton stared at the empty space where Peter had been standing a moment ago, his heart pounding. His first instinct was to go talk to Neal right away, but that would be obvious. He took a few deep breaths. All right. Peter knew. Why else would he comment on the suit he'd seen at Neal's earlier? Was it the suit that had done it, or had he suspected? Clinton thought he and Neal were pretty good about being cool at work, but then again, Peter knew them both well and if he had a hunch about something, he was usually right. Was the suit his first piece of concrete evidence?
It was too many thoughts at once. Clinton turned to the computer and started the search Peter asked him to do. He wasn't able to quite to forget his nerves, but at least he was getting something done.
An hour later, with a file in his hand, Clinton walked up to Peter's office. The door was open and Clinton stepped in, holding the folder up. "You were right about the connection," he said, dropping the file onto the desk. "Fisher was cellmates with Mandela's cousin, Nick Weaver. He's still in Five Points."
"Thanks, Jones," Peter said. He smiled, but he seemed to have a lot on his mind, so Clinton left him alone. It was just as well. Any lingering might lead to talking, and they might be forced into a conversation Clinton was not ready to have with his boss. One that included the possibility of him being relocated to another division, or maybe even another field office (he hadn't forgotten what happened to Lauren Cruz after she had an affair with the guy from cybercrimes).
Back downstairs, Clinton poured himself another cup of coffee, and Neal appeared at his side like magic.
"Are you okay?" Neal asked in a low voice. "You haven't look at me all day."
Clinton rolled his eyes, but fondly. "I've been working."
"That doesn't usually stop you."
He took a deep breath and said, his voice barely above a whisper, "Peter knows."
"How could he--"
"The suit," Clinton said.
"The suit," Neal repeated with a resigned nod. "What do you want to do?"
"Maybe you should go back to your desk and I'll go back to mine," Clinton replied, a little harsher than he meant it. He didn't want to send Neal away at all, but they had to be careful at the office. Now, even more so.
"Lunch?" Neal asked.
Clinton shook his head. "We probably shouldn't. Dinner."
"Okay, good." Neal sounded relieved. Maybe after the close call in the morning and this newest development, he was afraid Clinton was going to change his mind about breaking up. He picked up his mug with a smile and winked at Clinton as he walked away.
While Neal seemed pretty relaxed about all of this, Clinton had to throw himself into work to get his mind off of things. That was how he dealt with all his problem. Well, the ones he couldn't deal with, anyway. There would be time to talk about it with Neal after work, and Clinton could assure him that, no, he didn't want to break up.
Or so he thought.
It was just after four when Peter approached Clinton's desk again. "We got a tip from a CI that Mandela has recently opened up one of his old buildings on the Lower East Side. This one's been closed up for months. We thought it had been completely abandoned."
"A safe house for Fisher," Clinton said, and Peter nodded.
"How do you feel about a night in the van?"
Clinton hesitated for a second. He had plans with Neal. However, they both knew that work came first, even if Neal didn't have much of a choice in the matter. Clinton knew that if he said no, Peter would drag Neal along with him, complaining about it the whole time. There wasn't much of a difference, except that he'd be alone in his apartment and Neal would be sending him miserable text messages all night when Peter wasn't looking.
"You know how much I love the van," Clinton replied with a smile.
Peter grinned. "Good! I'll bring the coffee."
After Peter walked away, Clinton glanced over at Neal, who appeared to be hard at work at his desk. With a frown, Clinton picked up his cell phone, and his frown faded when he saw that he had a text message, sent just the minute before, from Neal.
Clinton looked back up and Neal's eyes were on him. He nodded, and Neal gave him a tiny shrug. There wasn't much either one of them could do about it.
The evening in the van went slowly, except for the sandwich run Clinton took around eight, and the conversation had started to wane. In between the occasional work-related comment (and those were few and far between as absolutely nothing was happening at Mandela's building) he and Peter had exhausted the Yankees rotation and the commercials for the new superhero movie that they both agreed looked terrible.
It was half past ten when Peter leaned back in his chair with his cup of coffee. "So, when are we going to talk about you and Neal?"
Clinton turned his eyes to the monitor in front him. "Me and Neal?" he asked, barely recognizing the sound of his own voice. He was usually more calm and secure, but now his heart was pounding so hard in his chest that Peter might have been able to hear it.
"Clinton, I would never ask you about your personal life. What you do when you're not at work is none of my business. Except when it involves Neal because Neal is my business. Not just the work he does with the FBI, but making sure he stays out of trouble. I have to be the one to encourage him to make the right choices because we both know he won't always make them on his own."
Whenever Peter called him by his first name, Clinton knew whatever he was saying was serious. He took a deep breath to try and steady himself and turned in his chair to look at Peter. He didn't appear to be angry or disappointed. In fact, he looked understanding.
"I know the rules," Clinton said slowly, "about agents and CIs. About office romances. I guess I wasn't making the right choices, either."
Peter nodded and then smiled as he said, "Neal can talk you into some crazy things. Believe me, I know."
"He didn't talk me into anything. I went in with my eyes open," Clinton replied, and he didn't look away, keeping his gaze even with Peter's.
Peter didn't need to know the whole story. He didn't need to know about how Neal unabashedly flirted with him for three hours in this very van, or how Clinton, aroused and aching, knocked over his coffee as he spun around in his chair to pull Neal in for their very first kiss. Neal had looked so surprised, and a week later, when they were in bed together, Neal had confessed that he never thought Clinton would kiss him, not after ignoring his advances all night.
No, Peter didn't need to know all of that, but he deserved the truth.
"So, are you dating him, or..." Peter paused and covered his mouth with his hand, rubbing his finger over his top lip. "I don't want to know, but I have ask: are you just sleeping with him?"
"I'm in love with him," Clinton said before he even realized the words were out of his mouth. He didn't even realize he felt the way, but as it said it, it felt right. Yes, that was the truth, too.
"Oh," Peter said. He took another drink from his coffee cup, and didn't say anything for a long time until Clinton couldn't stand the silence any longer.
"That's it? Oh?"
"I don't have a response to that," Peter replied.
Clinton looked down at his hands for a moment, and then back up at Peter. He should be looking at his boss when he said his next words. He'd never been anything except forward with Peter, ever since the day they had met. "Well, you could tell me how I'm getting transferred to Houston or wherever."
"Houston?" Peter repeated, clearly confused.
"That's where you sent Lauren."
Comprehension dawned on Peter's face. "That was out of my hands. And that's what this will be if you don't keep it quiet. Diana and I only know because we know both you and Neal pretty well, but--"
"Wait, wait, Diana knows?" Clinton asked. Out of al the people he wouldn't have wanted to know, it was Diana. He knew she obviously wouldn't care if he was gay (or bisexual, or whatever he was, because he sure as hell didn't know), but because of the merciless teasing that was sure to follow.
"She's the one who brought it to my attention." Peter grinned, probably because he knew exactly why Clinton didn't want Diana to know, but just as quickly, his smile faded for a serious expression. "I do mean it about keeping this quiet. If anyone else gets wind of this, I won't be able to help you."
"Would Neal get punished?"
Peter's eyes softened and he smiled. "No, he wouldn't. He works for me, not you."
Clinton nodded. "Good... good."
"You're really willing to risk your career for Neal?"
"I told you, Peter. I love him." Now that the words were out there, they felt good to say. They'd feel even better to hear. He took a deep breath and asked, "Why are you making an exception here?"
Peter considered Clinton for nearly a minute before he said, "Over the last two years, I've made a lot of exceptions for Neal. I've overlooked a lot of things he's done because they were for the good of a case, or because I knew how important it was to him. It might be against the policies of the FBI, but this isn't illegal. It's a good thing, and I feel good making an exception this time. I've seen Neal over the last couple of weeks, and he looks happy. He's doing well, and I guess I have you to thank for it."
Clinton felt his face heat up. "I don't know about that," he mumbled.
"I do," Peter replied firmly. "You're a good man, and a good influence. Neal needs that kind of stability."
Clinton felt like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "I really appreciate this, Peter."
"No problem, but just so you know, El is inviting you and Neal over to dinner and that's not a request."
He didn't question how Elizabeth knew. Instead he smiled and said, "I can handle that." He was quiet for a long moment, watching the monitor. "How'd you guys figure it out?"
"It was a lot of things," Peter replied with a smile, "and we've suspected for a few weeks now, but this morning I was at Neal's and I saw your suit there. You should try keeping an extra at his place."
Clinton laughed. "That damn suit."
It was after one in the morning when Clinton got out of the van, and he thought about going home, but instead he hailed a cab and went to Neal's. A few weeks before, Neal had given Clinton a key to June's house for just so occasions, and Clinton crept through the dark house as quietly as possible.
The door to Neal's apartment was unlocked, and it was dark inside, except for the lights from outside, but with every day, he knew the layout better and better, and as long as there wasn't a chair left in the wrong place, he could navigate with his eyes closed if need be.
"Moz?" Neal sleepily asked from his bed.
"No, it's me," Clinton replied. He kicked off his shoes by the couch and went over to the bed. Even in the darkness, his hands found Neal's body. He could find that with his eyes closed, too. He kissed Neal's neck and mumbled. "It's not dinner, but how about dessert?"
Neal chuckled, his voice thick from sleep. "Does that mean you brought me cheesecake?"
"No cheesecake. Just me."
"Good." Neal wrapped his hand around Clinton's arm and pulled him into the bed. "How was the van?"
"Interesting," Clinton said as diplomatically as possible. "But I was right about one thing. Peter knows. We talked about it."
"What'd he say?" Neal sounded awake now. Worried, even, and it sounded strange in Neal's voice, usually so confident and strong.
"That I should keep a spare suit at your place, and that Elizabeth is inviting us over for dinner next week. That's not a request, by the way."
Neal sat up, and Clinton could see a strip of his face from the warm glow of the city that streamed through the windows at all hours of the night. "He was okay with it? We're not in trouble?"
Clinton smiled. "I thought you liked getting in trouble."
"I don't like getting you in trouble." Neal cupped his hands around Clinton's cheeks. "We're okay?"
"Yeah, we're okay. We have to keep it quiet at the office, but we're good." He thought about telling Neal how he wouldn't be reprimanded for anything if someone were to find out, but he realized that Neal would know that only applied to him, and that Clinton would be vulnerable. He didn't want Neal to know that he was the only one risking something here. He was afraid Neal would end it right then if he knew.
Neal grinned, his eyes lighting up. "I've been thinking about you all night. We should get you out of that suit."
"We should," Clinton replied, "but not here. I've got a better idea."
Twenty minutes later, they sank into the bath tub together, Clinton with his back against the porcelain and Neal against his chest. Clinton had been right. There was room for both of them, and even room to spare.
Neal lolled his head back onto Clinton's shoulder and smiled up at him. "This is a better idea than what I had in mind. Though what I was thinking was pretty good, too."
"We'll get to that." Clinton pressed his mouth to Neal's ear and whispered, "I love you."
Neal closed his eyes, his smile content. "I love you, too."
Right again. It was good to say. It was better to hear.