The day is hot and long and almost over. They did their job, solved their case, and Peter has decided to take a break from glaring at him suspiciously. He has been talking all day about getting to relax in his backyard with a cold beer and an old radio. On the way out, he asks Neal if he would like to join him, promising that Neal could turn it to the station that likes to play Nina Simone and Sam Cooke.
He does this sometimes, letting up from the way he presses Neal, unrelenting, his anger and warning dripping out in conversations that are supposed to be about something else. Neal wonders if it is a strategy: remembering to act like Neal's friend, so Neal sees clearly that it's better than having Peter as an enemy.
Not that Peter would be that, exactly. They would be something, but not quite enemies.
Neal says yes and ends up slowly sauntering into the Burke's garden as he teases Peter about those tango lessons. He sips the beer as he stpes out the back door, appreciating its coldness, almost - but not quite - having learned to like the taste of the domestic brews that Peter preferred.
Apparently, though Peter eventually proved talented, there was quite the learning curve when he and El started lessons. Eventually the dance instructor realized that Peter would understand how to shape the "follow's" space if he followed someone else's lead, and so Elizabeth led until Peter figured out how to do something other than the two-left-feet tango.
"I'm impressed, Peter," Neal tossed over lightly, "That you were secure enough in your masculinity."
Peter looked offended even as he grinned. "Hey, I'm not some macho jerk."
"Yeah, you never say things like cowboy up," he smirked, taking another sip as he slid into a chair at the table on their patio. It wasn't true, really, that Peter was all that wedded to macho behavior, which of course made it all the more fun to tease him about it.
"Hey, I'm very sensitive and enlightened," Peter objected. "I even cry at movies."
"All sad movies or just Field of Dreams?"
"Shut up," Peter said with a frown before they cracked up. "Besides, manliness has nothing to do with it. Out of me, you, Elizabeth, Sara, and Diana, who is most likely to cry at a movie?"
Neal paused. "Blake?"
"Fine, I'll take that as you agreeing with my point." Peter smiled.
"No, really, when's the last time you cried Peter and it wasn't connected to an area sports team losing?" Neal joked.
Peter's face changed and Neal realized that he had suddenly, against his will, asked a serious question. Not when you figured out what I'm doing, Neal pled silently.
"Sorry, Peter - didn't mean to change the subject to-"
"It's okay. I mean, there's no shame in it, right? Not for two enlightened men in touch with our emotions?" he said, a little rueful that he had recently claimed to be immune to insecurity about his masculinity. He paused then, "The other night, I was upset. About a dream. Thought it was real, you know how that is."
Neal thought of the months after Kate and tried to make his nod nonchalant.
"It's none of my business," Neal says, wanting it to be a kindness; in Neal's view, letting someone off the hook was always an act of kindness.
Peter stared at him for a second, as if measuring something. "It was about Adler," he admitted.
"Sorry," Neal said immediately, and then wanted to take it back. It was never good to apologize. And he wasn't sure why he said it, but he knew that Peter would... read into it. "I mean, that you had to shoot someone because of me. To save me."
He was right. "It wasn't your fault that I did it, Neal." Peter didn't ever say words like "shot" or killed" to refer to Adler, and being so indirect - speaking through omissions - is so un-Peterlike that it jars Neal every time he hears it.
Neal just nodded, so Peter sighed and continued,"Look, Neal, whatever else I believe is going on, I know you didn't try to get yourself killed that day, or try to trick me into shooting Adler. Adler was attemping a murder - yours - and it wasn't his first, and I had to stop him. That was his choice. Your mistakes are yours and we both know you've made plenty, but Adler's choices were his own."
Neal nodded again but not because he agreed. Peter could spin it any way he wanted, but a con knows a rhetorical trick when he hears one.
There was a long silence, and Neal hated it, hated the contrast with the easy quiet he and Peter used to share. But then Peter continues.
"Adler wasn't my first."
Neal stared at him. He wasn't expecting that. Peter always did things right, never went in half-assed, was always able to show such superior speed and numbers that he hardly ever had to fire a shot. Except with Neal, with Adler, with utter chaos and its breakage of by the book, Peter always had enough time to talk down, disarm, or at least shoot in the arm or leg.
"It was a kid," Peter said, voice thick in his throat. "Twenty-one. Over his head. And cocky... Smart." Peter ran a thumb along the mouth of his beer, looking down at it. Not at Neal.
Neal pitied him in that moment, but the pity was outweighed by a twist in Neal's gut, some irrational, selfish jealousy as Neal realized that maybe Peter's obsession for saving Neal wasn't really about Neal at all, that maybe it was just Peter's thin attempt to exorcise his past. And Neal was aware of it , aware of the fact that only a sick stupid fuck could be self-centered enough to feel jealous for some poor guy who got gunned down at 21, and he tried to think of something that could make Peter feel better, but his thoughts were full of other things.
So it was Peter who spoke next, managing to look Neal in the eye: "In my dream, the one that... upset me, I didn't get there in time. You were... I was too late. I couldn't stop it."
He waited for something from Neal, who wasn't sure what. Neal tried to read him, the tightness of his jaw, and wondered when he stopped being able to do it.
Peter finished, "I shot him anyway. In the dream. Even though I was too late to save you." His voice cracked and he looked back down at his bottle, and Neal couldn't tell if Peter was upset about killing a man (two) or if he was upset that he dreamed that Neal died. Or if it were something else entirely.
They sat in silence a long time, then, in the heavy evening air, until they finished the six pack and started to see the lights of planes travelling across the sky. The light was fading rapidly, gray and purple now across the Burke's backyard.
Neal sighed finally and said, "At least the heat's going away, a little."
Peter's head angled slightly, and Neal couldn't tell if it was a nod. They continued to sit, men drinking beers, ignoring the questions they couldn't ask each other, and the ones they didn't want to ask again.