When they - finally - get together, Neal finds that Peter is better in bed than he could have imagined. Neal likes to switch, and though Neal is far more experienced in all matters kinky, Peter picks it up quickly. And unlike everywhere else in Neal's life, Peter never judges Neal's desires in bed, never decides that it's too much, too dangerous, too far gone past their limits. Neal was nervous about asking Peter to wrestle him into submission; it turned out Peter was thrilled to oblige. Neal didn't think Peter would roleplay as the cruel lawman who punished the jewel thief with a good, rough fuck as the thief (for the sake of realism) yelled no and please and stop. But Peter just read up on nonconsensual roleplay and worked with Neal to plan the safest, most enjoyable scene they could. And he wasn't just doing it for Neal's benefit - the roleplay, to Neal's delight, made Peter come with a force he had forgotten was in Peter.
The best part about Peter, though, was how well he switched. Most men who were so good at being dominant weren't quite as delectably good on the other side, but soon Peter - gorgeous, honest, open Peter - was telling Neal that he would really like it if Neal tied him up and figged him, or that he wanted to Neal to bend him over the patio table and gag him with El's garden gloves as he fucked him (Peter assured him that El thought that was an excellent use of her gloves, and that was good enough for Neal).
Their sex life was always good - generous and experimental and creative and mutual and never, ever boring - until it stopped.
It was for a case and it wasn't Neal's fault. Later, that's somethinghe would be grateful for, even if it were silly: it wasn't his fault. Neal and Peter didn't make a mistake - they didn't act recklessly or without good reasons. It was just a bad situation, and an unlucky day, and the rest of the team had to be somewhere else or the civilians would be dead.
It started with questions, interspersed by punches to the face and chest and gut. Peter and Neal were tied up and Neal couldn't slip the ropes while the four men were standing there with guns watching them. Soon it became obvious that their job was not actually to get answers - it was to amuse themselves with Peter and Neal until the order came through to kill them.
It got worse when one of them decided that it would be fun to make them fuck each other. They decided that it would be funnier to see Neal fuck Peter since Peter had a "cop face."
Neal told them to fuck themselves if they wanted a show. The tallest man put a gun to Peter's head and told Neal to unzip.
Two of the other men pulled Peter to a bench where they bent him over and held him down. There was a gun to Peter's head the whole time. They dragged Neal over to him and yanked on his dick as if he were being milked, as if he were an animal on show. They told him to get to it.
There was nothing he could say without them hearing. So he just said, "Peter-" hoping it would convey everything.
"It's okay, Neal," Peter said, "It's going to be all right." And Neal didn't know how Peter's voice could be so calm, so sure, making Neal want to believe a promise it wasn't rational to believe.
Neal went as softly as he could to make it painless while still trying to get it over with. He didn't touch any part of Peter's body, not wanting to give their captor's a clue to their real relationship, feeling like that intimacy would be to much to give up.
Neal pulled out and came on the concrete floor.
When they threw Peter on the ground they laughed when they saw his erection.
Twenty minutes later, the team had their captors in rifle sights.
Peter tried not to talk about it, after it happened. The men they arrested were saying nothing, and the team saw the bruises on their face but didn't think to ask anything else.
Neal tried to respect Peter's boundaries. Then a week later, he found out that it wasn't just that Peter didn't want to talk to him. That, Neal understood.
Peter hadn't told El either. She was so worried about Peter's strange behavior that she left a message on Neal's phone asking if he knew what was up.
Neal never thought he would see the day when Peter refused to tell El something.
And Neal knew it was wrong to make Peter feel pushed, like there was a right way or a wrong way for Peter to cope.
But if Neal was barely making it through the day with all his help, then was he really going to sit by while Peter dealt with this ALONE?
He said, "If you can't talk to me, fine. But talk to El and talk to a professional. Please. Because otherwise you won't be able to stop reliving what I did to you. I am begging you, Peter."
Peter raised an eyebrow. "What they did to us," he said quietly, almost resignedly.
"Not what you did to me. What they did to us."
"Of course. Right."
"Are you reliving it?"
"What?" Neal said.
"You said 'reliving.' Are you reliving it?"
Neal paused. "Not since... I'm seeing a therapist. A discreet one... Moz recommended him. I... Peter, I told Moz. I'm sorry."
Peter looked at him, confused almost. "Don't be. I want you to talk to whoever you can."
"I thought maybe you wouldn't want Moz to know."
"Because you ... aren't talking about it to anyone."
Peter looked at him, trying to figure him out. He said, finally, "I'm hurting you. My silence is making you feel like it was ... unspeakable." The last word cracks a little.
"No, that's not what I mean. I just... Please talk. To someone. It's not right to ask you. Me of all people. But please."
Peter paused. "You refused to see a therapist. After - that time I asked."
Neal nodded. "That was different. Not better. But ... different."
Peter nodded curtly. "I think El figured it out anyway," he said, almost a whisper.
"She's the best wife anyone could have," Neal said, hoping it would be a comfort, that it would give Peter courage. to talk to her
It didn't. Peter put his fingers to the bridge of his nose as if he had a headache but Neal could see the tears start. Neal wondered for a second if Peter thought, through some roundabout way, that what happened made him a worse husband to her.
But Peter looked up then, and nodded, forced a smile that looked strong if not happy. "Talking is good," he said. "We need to talk about this." There was determination in Peter's voice. "I'll tell El tonight. And we, the two of us, will talk about it as soon as our respective professionals think it's a good idea."
Neal nodded. He wanted to say Don't do this for me, don't do this if you're not ready, the last thing you deserve is to be bullied into this by ME. But the thought of Peter going home again to his secrets and his lonely pain sent such rage (and guilt) through Neal that he let his mercenary side win out. If the only thing that got Peter to talk was an incomprehensible concern for Neal's well-being, then so be it. It's not like Neal had much of a choice.
Another couple of weeks passed, and they did talk about it. Peter somehow made Neal believe that it wasn't Neal's fault, that Peter wasn't another person Neal destroyed just by being close to him. Neither of them were all that much better, but Peter at least looked like he was sleeping through the night.
Peter also put in a request for indefinite assignment to the financial oversight division. Desk work. Anything that warranted actual investigation would be passed on to a team like White Collar. El loudly stated that her husband was indulging her fear after Peter was again held by violent gunmen, but Peter told Neal that it was actually he who wanted a less exciting job for a little while.
Neal of course went with Peter. He was bored out of his mind.
Reese offered to let Neal work with White Collar on his own, but it didn't feel right, so he said he would only work with Peter.
Neal was very, very bored.
But their friendship was slowly- very, very slowly - normalizing.
They still hadn't so much as kissed. But Neal knew to be grateful that Peter even wanted to be in the same room as him.
Two months later, there were a string of high-profile Renaissance paintings gone missing from the most influential private collectors in the state. The thief was apparently brilliantly clever and nobody in White Collar had figured out how they even committed the crimes. Reese was dropping hints about how productive White COllar had been when Peter was there.
Of course Neal's eyes lit up when he heard. Peter said to Neal, "I know you'd like to, but..."
Neal just said, quickly, "It's not important. It's just a case."
Peter sized him up. "You've been good about staying out of trouble lately. But I think I'm going to punch the wall if I have to see your bored eyeroll every time I hand you a file."
"I don't - what - you're making me sound very annoying."
Peter raised an eyebrow.
"Admit that I'm delightful," Neal said with a smile.
Peter's turn to roll his eyes. Then a pause. "Fine. We'll try going back to White Collar... It does look like an interesting case."
Neal barely stopped himself from hugging Peter.
The morning before Peter transferred back, El asked to meet Neal for breakfast. They made pleasantries until Neal asked her what was wrong.
Peter was worried Neal would go back to his old ways if his job didn't challenge him. But Peter didn't feel ready for his old job yet.
Neal nodded and didn't finish the rest of his meal. He continued to feel nauseous all morning until he had a chance to pull Peter aside and ask.
Peter smiled at him. Reassuring. "I was worried," he admitted. "But this feels right. It feels... good."
Neal and Peter brilliantly solve the case in a matter of days.
Everyone is glad to have them back.
Things return to almost normal and soon it feels like they never left. Neal watches Peter closely but he seems to be adjusting all right. There's a caution to him, a greater wariness for putting agents on their own, but overall, Peter seems to be coping well.
Neal is delighted when a millionaire landlord bilks his below-the-poverty-line tenants by using illegal eviction tactics. Only because it lights a fire under Peter that he hasn't seen in ages. The landlord goes down hard and Peter's grin of satisfaction warms Neal in a way that few things have.
They keep working. They banter just like they used to. Peter places a hand on Neal's back as they walk without either noticing, just like they used to. On long work nights, Neal falls asleep on Peter's shoulder, just like they used to. They still haven't kissed. But Neal thinks that maybe, just maybe, Peter is all right.
A month later, it's a simple case of fraud but the target panics and pulls a gun on Peter, Diana, and Neal. The man is silly and desperate and has obviously never used a weapon and he even leaves the safety on. Diana is standing closest to him and disarms him without difficulty. Peter tells her "good job" and reads him his rights.
Neal is back in that room with a gun to their heads, with men holding Peter down and another man grabbing at his dick so it's hard enough to make Neal a rapist.
Peter claps him on the shoulder and Neal smiles like he's not in hell.
Ten minutes later, they are walking down the street and across the street a stack of boxes tip over in a loud clanging roar in front of a local shop. Neal thinks it's the sound of a plane exploding and he yells for Kate.
The first time that happened, the explosion was real and Neal's mind said it wasn't, said it couldn't be. This time, the explosion wasn't real but his mind said it was.
Peter holds him back, pulling him down, embrace like a vice, encircling him and yelling his name as Neal pulled and screamed and sobbed. This time, same as the last: it's always Peter who holds him back.
Later, Reese will tell him that he is required as a condition of parole to take at least two weeks off to seek more intensive treatment. Neal asks Peter to convince Reese otherwise, but Peter traitorously agrees with Reese.
When he gets to the specialist - a Bureau psychologist specializing in PTSD, not the comforting and unintimidating antiques-smuggler-who-used-to-be-a-therapist that Moz directed him to - Neal hesitates before walking in. Before either of them can stop to think about it, Peter kisses him on the cheek to give him courage. There's a moment of awkwardness, but it passes, and Peter's magic trick works; Neal walks in.
A few weeks after Neal comes back to work, Peter tells Neal that he misses their sex life.
One day after that, Neal kisses Peter to see how it feels.
It's better for Neal than it is for Peter.
They wait and try again and it's better for both.
They work up to it slowly. Neal is terrified of scaring Peter so he asks Peter to tie him up. He thinks it will make both of them feel safer. Peter refuses, says he isn't ready. But Neal pushes, wanting to prove to Peter that they could have what they did before.
Finally, they try it. The ropes caress Neal's skin and Neal can see the lust darken Peter's eyes. They smile at each other and kiss on the lips. Peter reaches down to palm Neal's dick.
Neal screams and doesn't even have the peace of mind to slip the ropes. He panics when Peter gets a knife to cut them, so Peter finds a scissors.
After, they sit quietly until Neal is calm, carefully not touching each other or making sudden moves.
"Aren't you going to say 'I told you so'?" Neal says, finally, and even he's surprised at the bitterness of it.
"I didn't expect this. I ... thought it would be me," Peter says, honestly.
Neal pauses. "This is better," he says, taking some small comfort in it.
Peter stares at him like he has no idea, like he's angry at Neal for saying it. But he says nothing, sighs, and asks Neal if they can just watch old movies and eat pasta tonight, and work on a solution in the morning.
Neal agrees, to both parts.
Soon, they start seeing a couples therapist and a sex therapist, which means that Neal is seeing four therapists plus talking things over with Mozzie who fancies himself a psychologist since technically he has the degree. He wonders if this is overkill, since he really doesn't like talking honestly about himself or anything else. He kind of despises it. But then he thinks back to what he used to have and decides he'll try anything.
It's another two months before they make another attempt. It's awkward and slow and extremely careful and not particularly passionate but when it's done and they don't feel like running from the room. They feel triumph, they feel free.
After, Neal brings Peter's hand to his mouth to kiss his fingertips one by one. He wonders silently if Peter wished Neal hadn't been so fragile, that he didn't need so long to get here.
Peter - gorgeous, honest Peter - does his thinking out loud. He speculates that it must have been hard for Neal to carry him all this way.
Neal honestly has no idea what he's talking about.
"You've been the strong one," Neal says.
"You've been the brave one," Peter says, "You're the reason we got here."
He says it with gratitude, real and overwhelming.
Neal says, "I guess we need each other then," and leans in, tighter and closer against the roughness of Peter's chest.
Peter signals his agreement by curling a possessive arm around Neal's back. It doesn't feel wrong.