The gentle sea breeze wafted the scent of salt, surf, and sand up to the pavilion where he and Neal were patiently waiting for the FBI to call them back with the results from biometrics. He breathed in the ocean air, letting it soothe his doubts about what had brought him away from another case of mortgage fraud and to a tropical island. He’d never imagined Neal would run anywhere else. He’d had to force back a laugh when Jones had suggested they might have been in Russia. When you’d successfully charmed your way through most of life, you usually didn’t end up somewhere that cold intentionally.
Besides, Neal was a romantic. Aside from the architecture in St. Petersburg, he couldn’t imagine there was much in Russia for Neal to romanticize. As he’d told El whenever they looked over the map, there were really only two types of places Neal would go to presumably “retire,” a city in Europe or an island paradise, and really, there was too much chance of exposure in a big city. It wasn’t like they lacked extradition. The kind of money that he imagined he and Mozzie to have would certainly be suspicious anywhere, but in Paris or Barcelona or Rome, he could only imagine it would be more so.
“So Cape Verde, huh?” Elizabeth had asked when she pulled the map out of the tube. She hadn’t lasted ten minutes after Jones and Diana had left. If he’d have let her, she would have helped them instead of going upstairs to work on an itinerary for an upcoming business conference, but it was bad enough that Jones and Diana had. And he knew it.
“Yeah,” Peter replied in a daze. Although he registered that Elizabeth was talking to him, his mind was already in Cape Verde. He was picturing, yet again, Neal running down the beach in a coastal storm as he told him goodbye, this time adding in the white walls of the Spanish church. He imagined that Neal thought it was as romantic a goodbye as they could have had. And if that had really been it, he was sure he’d have thought the same. But he knew that wasn’t it. It couldn’t be. He had hated doing that to Neal -- tricking him into revealing where he was. He knew he’d done it before, but it was different when he was doing it as part of his job. He had to do it. But Neal wasn’t a case file anymore. He was Neal.
“You’re going to bring him home?” El asked as she rested the map on their kitchen table, though it wasn’t really a question. “Because if you aren’t, I’m booking the next flight to Cape Verde myself. The island breeze might be a nice change of pace. Besides, I miss Mozzie.”
“I miss Neal more,” Peter said, without really putting a lot of thought into it, his mind mostly still on the phone call. Despite himself, he really did miss Mozzie, but Mozzie wasn’t Neal. And he missed Neal the way he’d miss a limb. And, honestly, he knew Elizabeth knew, without his putting any specific words to it, that Neal mattered to him as much as she did.
Elizabeth rested her hand on his shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze as she whispered to him, “I know you do, hon.”
Neither of them mentioned going to Cape Verde again until the next afternoon when things had gone considerably awry, considering Collins finding out Neal’s whereabouts and his subsequent suspension. He’d called her as he was driving home to give her all the unpleasant details, and she’d asked him to pick up dinner for both of them from his favorite take-out place across town. It had been a strange request, but he went along with it, figuring it would be a much needed distraction from his afternoon.
When he came in carrying two bags full of beef Lo-mein and sesame chicken, which he imagined would last at least until lunch the next day, he found El sitting on the couch folding his clothes into a mostly packed suitcase. There was a plane ticket resting on the coffee table. He gaped at her for a moment before setting the food down on the table.
“Let’s eat, and then I’ll drive you to the airport,” she replied to his unasked questions.
He knew he’d told her the same thing not a week earlier, but he smiled up at her, “You’re the...”
She cut him off with a kiss, “Best wife ever. I’ve got it. Now be the best husband ever and go get Neal back.”
When they got to the airport, El gave him a quick hug and kiss before handing him a small envelope that simply said Moz. He frowned at it for a moment before giving her a quizzical look.
“Even if Neal comes back with you, I’m not sure Mozzie will. It’s my best chance at saying ‘hi,” she explained matter-of-factly. Peter nodded; she was probably right. He hated the idea of splitting Neal and Mozzie up, but Mozzie likely needed to return to New York on his own terms. And he felt certain the Suit wasn’t included in those terms.
“Have a good trip, hon,” El said as she gave him a second hug. Then she leaned down and whispered in his ear, “Don’t do anything with Neal you wouldn’t do with me.”
She paused before placing a finger on his wedding band and adding, “You should see if it’s a good place for an island wedding.”
Under the circumstances, Peter thought it was a strange remark. Especially considering he and El had renewed their vows not a year earlier and an island off the coast of Africa just generally seemed too far out of the way considering there were so many tropical islands off the coast of the U.S. Nevertheless, he grinned at her and told her he’d certainly investigate.
As he and Neal sat chatting amiably about how working with Jones and Diana without him was, how Christie and Diana’s wedding plans were going, and how Neal had been spending his free time on the island, he decided he’d have to tell El he agreed. Despite the gravity of the circumstances, Cape Verde lived up to all his expectations of a tropical paradise. However, he amended, most of his expectations had been finding Neal alive and well, which at this point was only mostly true. He gave a small sigh as he glanced at Neal’s leg.
He supposed he wasn’t particularly surprised Collins tried to stop Neal from running like that. But that didn’t stop him from wanting to hit Collins upside the head with his own gun-- and if he only had it, he would. At least if there wouldn't be serious ramifications for doing that.
He didn’t have too much time to dwell on these thoughts though as Neal voiced his own worries about how long biometrics was taking and Mozzie returned from whatever errand he’d been running, seemingly with the intent purpose of asking another awkward question-- Mozzie had never seemed so invested in his and Neal’s relationship before. Mozzie gave him a skeptical look, that he couldn’t quite read, as the FBI finally, thankfully, called back.
After they finished the preliminary planning for their con on Dobbs, Mozzie turned to Peter again, “Suit, your coming here seems like a more romantic gesture than a less than metaphorical guilt trip.”
Mozzie then kept his eyes fixed on Peter, waiting for him to comment. Peter wasn’t sure what he was meant to say to that, and he glanced at Neal for help. He’d meant every word he had said about why he’d come and Kramer, but Mozzie was right, he had left a lot unsaid. There were things that he imagined he and Neal would both like to say--and do-- behind closed doors. But in an open air pavilion with Mozzie constantly going to and fro, it hardly seemed possible.
“Peter, he knows,” Neal said finally. When Peter’s eyes widened in surprise, Neal continued, “I didn’t tell him. I didn’t need to tell him. We’re not as subtle as you think we are. He knew before we left New York. Long before...”
“Fair enough,” Peter said. He supposed that explained why Mozzie had asked what his intentions with Neal were. “I’m here because life without Neal in it is not something I can endure. And I’d rather run from island to island with the two of you than go back to New York without him.”
“I’m sure Elizabeth would appreciate that,” Neal commented dryly as he gave Peter a long look.
“She told me if I wasn’t back in a week, she was going to come look for us. Going on the run seemed implied,” Peter said. Then he set his hand firmly on Neal’s shoulder, “Neal, you’re family. I’m going back with you or not at all.”
Neal pulled him into a hug, and Peter lifted him slightly so that the pressure would be off his leg since he illogically insisted on standing. Then, to his surprise, Neal kissed him, despite the fact that Mozzie was still standing there. When he pulled back, he said, “Well, we wouldn’t want to turn Elizabeth into an accomplice. So we better make sure this plan works.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Peter said as he brushed Neal’s bangs back from his forehead.
“You may have other objections to Mrs. Suit joining our island getaway,” Mozzie commented as they both turned to look at him, without pulling away from one another. “Yes, still here. Thanks for noticing.”
“What objections?” Neal asked, giving Mozzie a quizzical look.
“Well, she wants me to marry you two,” Mozzie said. “It’s not the worst idea. If a little less than traditional.”
“She what?” Peter said, pulling away from Neal and turning to Mozzie in surprise. Then it all clicked, “So that’s what she meant. Of course, we were already talking about Neal.”
“Uh, Peter?” Neal said as he pulled Peter back to him so he could rest his arm on Peter’s shoulder.
“El told me to find out if this was a good place for a wedding. I didn’t realize she meant for us,” Peter said as he turned his head so that his eyes met Neal’s. “But I think it’s a great place for an impromptu beach wedding. What do you think?”
“That this is a less than traditional proposal. You aren’t on your knees or anything,” Neal said as he shook his head and laughed. “But if it’s what Moz and Elizabeth want, I don’t know how we can say no.”
Peter started to kneel down on the ground, thinking that he really ought to do this justice, but Mozzie put the palm of his hand up to stop him, “Suit, there’s something you ought to know. If Neal never told you, he technically gave you an engagement ring already. Neither of you have it now, but there seemed to be an unnecessary amount of back and forth with it.”
“The ring that I used to barter with Keller when he kidnapped you,” Neal started and then took a long breath. “It was the ring that was meant to be an engagement ring for Kate....someday.”
“Neal...you didn't," Peter started, fumbling for words that wouldn’t come. “I...can’t imagine what that meant to you.”
"I was saving it for a rainy day that was never going to come. And I’m not sure I ever really wanted it to. I’ll never be sure about Kate. But this. This I’m certain about,” Neal said as he gripped Peter’s shoulders and looked into his eyes. “I love you. And your love for me is unconditional and I know that.”
“Damn right,” Peter said as he beamed at Neal because he didn’t really know what else to say.
“Peter, you’ve stopped me from getting on a plane in the past and you’ve flown halfway around the world just to find me,” Neal said, sensing Peter’s struggle. “You don’t have to say anything; you’ve said enough.”
“Why don’t we move this emotionally charged palavering to the beachfront?” Mozzie asked as he made a shooing motion towards the ocean. “It has more in the way of scenery.”
“We have to change first. We need something more formal and we can’t wear the clothes we were wearing yesterday,” Neal said as he gave Peter a meaningful look. Peter assumed that meant another one of his pastel polos was not going to be sufficient. When he went inside and started rooting through his suitcase, hoping he’d find something that Neal would consider suitable, he discovered that Elizabeth had thought about this. Neatly folded at the very bottom of his suitcase, with a Post-It Note stuck on the sleeve of the suit-jacket, was a three piece suit.
Just in case ;),
Peter closed his eyes a moment and laughed softly before pulling the clothes out and changing. He met Neal who was wearing a grey suit jacket over a different white button down as well as grey slacks back on the pavillion. He then proffered his elbow to Neal, which Neal accepted and they walked towards the beach that way until Neal, who had been moving gingerly, set his leg down the wrong way and gave out a small gasp of pain.
Peter pulled him to his side for a moment, then he glanced around until he saw a sturdy looking tree branch, which he then handed to Neal. “See if that helps.”
Neal put it on the ground and then started walking forward using it as a cane seemingly unhindered, then he offered his elbow back to Peter. They walked along in amicable silence with each of them glancing fondly at one another as they treaded through the sand towards the two palm trees that Mozzie was standing beneath. The trees had grown in such a way that they were bending towards each other, creating an arc that seemed appropriate for the occasion.
Something that sounded vaguely like it might have been an attempt at the wedding march started playing, and Peter noticed the little boy that had stolen his wallet the day before holding a ukulele standing off to the side of the trees. Neal gave the boy a small wave before Mozzie gestured for them to come forward as he held up a papaya.
“Why is he holding a papaya?” Peter whispered.
“I have no idea,” Neal shrugged before shifting his gaze back to Mozzie. “I think we’re about to find out though.”
Mozzie held the papaya towards them, “We are gathered here today to celebrate the union between the Suit and Neal. Also known as extremely prolonged Stockholm Syndrome, but I digress...” Mozzie paused as Neal gave him a warning look, and Peter shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot.
“This papaya here represents their love for one another. At first, a papaya doesn’t appear as though it would be something that you would want. You might shy away from tasting it at first. But once you do, the flavor of it is sweet and unusual, and you find that you’d like to taste more. But papayas are not always easy to find, and often get away from you. But for Neal and the Suit, the papayas are always found.”
Peter and Neal keep exchanging glances with each other, looking back at Mozzie, and then trying to refrain from giggling, especially during the bits which involved the word taste. Finally Neal turned to Mozzie and just openly gaped at him, “Did you just buy some papayas from Hector so he’d play the ukulele? And go from there?”
“No! I resent that assumption,” Mozzie said with perhaps too much vehemence to be believed. “Papayas are a sweet and effective metaphor for your love for each other.”
“So no other fruit would do?” Neal asked as he gave Mozzie a look of pure skepticism.
As Neal asked this, Peter saw a coconut drifting out of the water and rolling through the sand towards them. He reached down and picked it up, “How about a coconut? A nut of any kind seems about right for whatever this is.”
“Fine,” Mozzie agreed taking the coconut from Peter. “But if Hector doesn’t stay for the rest of the ceremony, that is on you.”
“A coconut is like your love because a coconut can go across an ocean in pursuit of another coconut,” Mozzie began as Peter and Neal continued exchanging skeptical glances.
“Is that even true?” Peter asked as he gave the coconut a long, hard look. If it was true, he was sort of impressed.
“Maybe,” Mozzie shrugged before continuing his explanation. Peter glanced over to Neal and studied his face carefully for a moment thinking that he looked a bit paler than when they had left the beach house. Worried that Neal might faint, as Mozzie continued pontificating on how a coconut represented love, he crossed his ankles and sat down cross-legged in the sand, hoping that Neal would follow suit. Neal gave a small nod of thanks before collapsing into the sand. Then Peter lifted Neal’s injured leg up and placed it on his knee.
“Now, for the vows,” Mozzie said, sensing that he’d completely lost his audience. “And no objections from the peanut gallery. Mrs. Suit gave these to me.”
“I knew she wouldn’t just say ‘hi,’” Peter said, mostly to himself as Neal gave him a questioning look to which he whispered, “Later.”
They both turned their full attention back to Mozzie and waited. Then Mozzie asked for Neal to repeat after him if he agreed to all of the following.
“I Neal take thee Suit,” Mozzie started, and Neal rolled his eyes before replacing ‘Suit’ with ‘Peter,’ “as my husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, from nearby, from a great distance, through the outcome of impulsive decisions, through the outcome of heavily weighed decisions, within in the law, and without the law, until death do us part.”
Neal duly repeated each of these things after Mozzie said them, keeping his eyes locked with Peter’s.
“I Peter,” Mozzie paused after placing a great amount of emphasis on Peter’s name. “take thee Neal as my husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, from nearby, from a great distance, through the outcome of impulsive decisions, through the outcome of heavily weighed decisions, within in the law, and without the law, until death do us part.”
“You may kiss the Suit,” Mozzie announced, turning to Neal, as Peter finished repeating the last bit. Since they were still sitting, with Neal’s leg resting on Peter’s knee, the kissing was not as simple as it should have been. Neal scooted forward and slid his leg up past Peter’s side as Peter leaned forward and down until he reached Neal’s lips.
“I now pronounce you husband and husband,” Mozzie said as he grinned at them and then reached down to give both Neal and a slightly bewildered Peter a small hug. “Congratulations! Now I have to go find out which one of Dobb’s boats is the Esmeralda. Occupy yourselves.”
Without any further explanation, Mozzie ran off towards the marina, leaving Neal and Peter on their own.
Neal slid back and started to stand up, but as he grimaced and reached for the stick that he had discarded when they sat down before, Peter pulled him up and rested his arm around his shoulder. “Neal, I don’t think I can carry you, but if you think you could get onto my back, that might work.”
Neal nodded before pulling his shoes off, “A grown man giving another grown man a piggyback ride. I think that cinches this as the strangest wedding I’ve ever been to.”
“I don’t even begin to believe that,” Peter said as he crouched down so that Neal could climb onto his back.
“Strangest wedding between two men?” Neal suggested as he pulled himself up and did his best to hold onto Peter’s shoulders.
“Even less likely,” Peter said as he started walking back towards the beach house. When they made it to one of the bedrooms, they both pulled off their suit jackets and collapsed on the bed and just laid there for a few minutes.
“Well, when we’re both up to moving again, I think we have some duties to fulfill,” Neal said as he winked at Peter.
“Is that right?” Peter asked as he began to lean down, carefully avoiding Neal’s right leg, and started slowly unbuttoning Neal’s shirt and kissing him along his chest as Neal pulled him forward to kiss him on the mouth again.
A few hours later, with their duties more than adequately fulfilled, Peter was lying on the far side of the bed with his left arm dangling over the side as Neal curled into his side, sound asleep. Peter leaned into Neal and breathed in the sweet aroma of whatever Neal used as shampoo mixed with the gentle ocean breeze blowing in through the open window. It was already dark outside, but it wasn’t particularly late, so Peter wasn’t too surprised when his cell phone began buzzing insistently from the nightstand.
Neal raised half lidded eyes to Peter as Peter reached for the phone, the bright illumination stinging his eyes, “It’s El. Do you want it?”
Neal grinned as he took the phone, “Elizabeth. It’s been awhile.”
Peter heard Elizabeth laugh faintly at that before lightly admonishing Neal for how long ‘awhile’ had been and asking him how his leg was. They chatted for a few minutes before Neal put the phone between them and put it on speaker, seemingly at Elizabeth’s request.
“Hon, I completely forgot to ask earlier, did you give my note to Mozzie?” Elizabeth asked innocently.
“Yeah, I see my wife is as devious as my husband,” Peter said so that she got the answer to what she was really asking. Neal smirked at him.
“Would you have it any other way?” Elizabeth asked.
In tandem with Elizabeth’s comment Neal said, “Wouldn’t your life be dull otherwise?”
“I couldn’t ask for better people to be in love with,” Peter answered truthfully as he wrapped his arm around Neal and wished he could wrap the other around El. He settled for putting his hand around the phone.
“Now when are you two coming home?” Elizabeth asked. Then added, “The answer better be soon.”
“Well, El, if all goes right with our plan to get Neal his deal back at the FBI” Peter said. “We should both be home by Saturday night.”
“And if all goes wrong?” El asked hesitantly, clearly dreading the answer.
“Then you might be joining us on an indefinite vacation,” Peter said. “There seems to be some talk about lepers in paradise.”
“The next stop on our island tour is not exactly recommended by Moz,” Neal added.
“Neal, just make sure the next time we’re all on an island together, it’s for a planned and preferably legal vacation,” Elizabeth said meaningfully. “I know this was really rough on Peter. And I imagine even before yesterday it wasn’t all sunsets on beaches for you either.”
“I’ll do my best,” Neal replied. He and Peter both raised their eyebrows at the phrasing of ‘preferably legal.’
“I just wanted to check in, but if you have a plan, you probably ought to be well rested for it, and it’s getting late. So goodnight, hon,” El said. “Goodnight, Neal.”
They both bid Elizabeth goodnight before attempting to get a good night's rest in before starting their plan, as they weren’t likely to get much sleep afterwards.
The next day after having a pleasant breakfast of coffee and scones that he’s not quite sure how Neal managed to acquire, Mozzie updates them on their plan, and Neal spends the rest of the morning attempting to teach Peter how to mix drinks successfully, hoping he can manage it by the evening. After that, they barely see one another until Peter meets Collins, with Neal in tow, at the plane.
Throughout the con, the flight to the Canary Islands, and the flight to New York, Neal did his best to act like his leg was completely fine even though he had hardly listened to the doctor's advice about staying off of it. But Peter knew the injury was still taking its toll on him. One look at him on the cab ride to June’s suggested that it would be nothing short of miraculous if he was still conscious by the time they got there. Nevertheless, as he rested his head against the cool glass of the window pane, despite his drooping eyelids, he seemed to be trying to drink in the city’s chaos and insomnia.
"Neal," Peter said as he nudged Neal's shoulder as they pulled up outside of the brownstone. "We're at June's."
Neal gave him a bleary eyed look followed by a broad, genuine grin, "Home at last."
Peter helped Neal out of the cab, and they made it most of the way up the stairs with Neal leaning heavily into his shoulder. However, by the time they had reached the hallway outside of Neal’s apartment, his energy seemed to finally give out. He sagged against Peter's side and started to slide onto the floor. Peter just barely caught him and lifted him up from under the knees, hoping he could make it at least as far as the door. To his surprise, the door opened of its own accord, revealing Elizabeth.
"Hi, hon. June let me in," El explained as Peter gave her a questioning glance. Then she grinned broadly at the pair of them, “Good trip?”
"Yeah, I guess you could say that. I came back with him anyway.” Peter said as he gave a nod to Neal, who he was doing his best to hold onto. “Can you give me a hand, please?"
"Once you walk over the threshold," El said with a mischievous grin not unlike one of Neal's.
"People still do that?" Peter asked as he made sure Neal's head wasn't about to hit the door frame and then proceeded to walk through the door.
"Well, you just did," El laughed as she came to make sure Neal made it the rest of the way to his bed unscathed.
Afterwards, they went and sat on the balcony as Peter told Elizabeth all about the past few days with greater detail than he’d been able to manage over the phone. After about an hour of their chatting, Neal, looking half-awake, came to join them.
Elizabeth immediately pulled him into a long hug, “Neal, it’s so good to see you. But can’t you sleep?”
Neal shrugged, “Something between jet lag and my leg is stopping me. But that just means I can start enjoying my view again.”
He breathed in deeply as he gestured to the New York Skyline behind him before glancing at Peter, “It’s good to be home.”
“And we’re both glad to have you home,” Elizabeth said.
Peter walked up behind both of them and wrapped one arm around each of them and pulled them closer together, “Now it appears that Mozzie put a stack of not particularly flattering photos of us, taken by Hector, into my suitcase. Who wants to look at them?”
Shortly thereafter, Neal, Peter, and Elizabeth were curled up on top of each other on Neal’s bed looking through photos as Neal and Peter tried their best to give judicious commentary on Mozzie’s sermon on fruit. Soon all three of them were doubled over laughing. When they finally recovered, Elizabeth found what was unanimously decided on as the the best photo in the set, in which Neal’s leg was still propped up on Peter’s knee and they were staring intently and longingly into one another’s eyes.
“Neal sitting in the sand in a suit for you. Now that’s love,” Elizabeth said.