"I didn't take it," was all Neal said as anger and frustration built up within Agent Peter Burke. In that instant, so many memories flashed before his eyes. Neal, off his face on hospital prescription drugs, telling him in a small, doped-out voice that he, Peter, was the only person he trusted beyond doubt. Neal, pretending not to know what he was talking about when the tape was stolen from Fowler's favourite judge's office. Then, on Neal's terrace, talking, in Neal' kitchen, promising each other: no more secrets. As Peter found himself accusing his partner, his best friend, his lover, of stealing the art, he asked himself desperately how he could've hoped to make this work when his trust in Neal was always going to be this fragile.
With a little snort, Peter startled out of his dream and had to make sure he wasn't back in that yard, feeling himself spiralling down. It took him a minute to become aware of the hand slowly and gently caressing his shoulder, but when he noticed that Neal probably wasn't asleep, he turned to face him.
"Was it a bad dream?" the younger man asked, his voice still hoarse from sleep, his eyes glinting in the moonlight shining in through the huge glass windows of the apartment.
"You could say that," Peter mumbled and raised a hand to brush back a lock of Neal's hair. They usually spent the night together here, Neal rarely stayed late at Peter's—it was nobody's business where that anklet went to bed and who with, and Peter could go wherever he wanted without being seen. Besides, El, Peter's sister, had accidentally caught them one evening, nearly scaring them to death by, first, dropping the stack of books she'd brought with a deafening KLONK!, second, by staring at them for about three seconds before squealing with delight, and then doubling over with laughter at the position she'd found them in: they'd been sitting side by side on the sofa in the den, buried in case files, making out like a pair of teenagers across a pile of arrest forms. The laughter had only gotten worse when Neal had managed to find his voice, held up a bunch of search warrants, and quipped that surprise visitors should always be prepared to have the surprise waiting for them. Elizabeth had nodded, wiped a few tears of mirth from her eyes, then had picked up her books and leaned down to give a pink-eared Peter a kiss on the cheek before heading towards the kitchen to make coffee. Peter had sent a questioning look at Neal, who had simply shrugged and whispered, "Oh, she knows." Peter nodded—his sister had probably known long before they had.
"Who is this one from?" asked El, picking up another birthday card that hadn't been there in the morning. When she turned it to read the back, she didn't recognize the handwriting—but the signature damn near took her breath away.
"He's sending you birthday cards?"
Peter looked up to see which card she meant and sighed, not quite meeting her eyes as he answered. "Just the one, it's not for certain that he wants to make it a habit."
She grinned at her brother, and sat down across from him. "Now, if you ask me, I think he will. He likes you, and he likes being chased by you. And you like chasing him."
"I'd rather be putting him behind bars," Peter growled, but that didn't fool her.
"Be that as it may, he fascinates you. I know how persistent you can be, but this case is different. You see him do all these things, and you can't help but smile a little as he slides out of your grasp, again, because he does it just so. So damn brilliantly, too. If this man gets caught, he won't let it be anyone but you."
"What was it?" Neal prompted, causing Peter to squirm a little.
"It was the warehouse again. When I accused you of stealing the art Keller scavenged off that sub." He felt, rather than heard, Neal sigh.
"Yeah, well, that is a bad dream," he replied, and then moved closer until their noses were almost touching, just staring at him.
"Why are you staring?"
"'Cause I like to watch you think."
He was right, Peter was thinking, far too much and way too fast for a starry Friday night. He was thinking about their relationship—he had stopped trying to count all the reasons why this was not a good idea. But even before that he'd stopped counting the reasons why he wanted it anyway.
Not only was it the worst possible thing to do by Bureau standards—although Peter had the sneaking suspicion that Jones, Lauren, and Diana had set up a betting pool the day he'd first brought Neal in. It was dangerous personal territory. He saw Neal as his partner in every possible way, his equal, or otherwise their relationship wouldn't work, personal or at the office. But he was still one rung up the ladder—Neal was a convicted felon, a con, wearing a tracking anklet with a three-mile radius.
Peter could play the anklet card to keep him from doing something really stupid—technically, at least. No-one could stop Neal Caffrey with force, and that was what made their partnership worth calling it that. Still, he had the higher authority, and although he knew Neal trusted him never to abuse that power, Peter had been reluctant to give in to his attraction for the con artist turned consultant. It had taken him a while to realize that that was mainly because of one thing their seamlessly transitioning work and private relationship couldn't seem to reconcile: the fact that Peter trusted Neal when he said he loved him—but not necessarily when he said he didn't steal something. Neal was paying off a debt to the law, and the prospects of what he might decide to do after those five years were over were what scared Peter more than anything.
Neal trusted Peter implicitly; and the FBI agent had come to think of that as a luxury. Neal was his responsibility, and he was torn as to whether that was a good thing. El had been right: Neal's cons had fascinated him from the get-go; the brilliance with which they had been carried out, the wit Neal exuded wherever he went. Peter had realized that conning was part of the package, part of what made Neal… Neal. And he found that he didn't want to take that from him—the criminality, yes. But not the fun. Peter didn't want to change Neal—he couldn't, no-one could just mould someone like Neal to their will. He could only give advice and a few pointers, he could try to set an example and show Neal the ropes of the life with the law, but the rest Neal would have to figure out for himself.
Peter didn't want to change who Neal was, he didn't want to pressgang or emotionally blackmail him into something he didn't want. He wanted to offer Neal, the con artist, a life that could make Neal, the con artist, happy, just without the constant threat of anklets or handcuffs. Of course there was a preferable answer, but he wanted Neal to choose freely—off the leash, and Peter didn't want Neal to pay him any heed in his decision, unless he came as an added bonus.
He could only hope that the cons the young man pulled off for the Bureau would be enough to convince him to stay. And ever since Neal had confessed that Peter was the only one who could have stopped him boarding that plane, he hoped that maybe Neal wouldn't make a choice against doing what he wanted—but for something—someone—he wanted more.
Neal watched Peter's thoughts race a mile a minute, and he knew what his partner was worrying about again—whenever he got concerned about Neal, there was this little extra furrow in his brow that, although Peter had an excellent poker face, Neal had long since identified as "his." He knew Peter dreaded the day the five years would be over and Neal would have to make a choice. He knew that Peter felt guilty for not trusting him completely, but Neal didn't feel it was his partner's fault. It was how their work relationship worked—Neal had to prove himself, and although it hurt him every time, he understood why Peter had a hard time believing him sometimes: Neal was brilliant. He could pull cons other thieves only ever dreamt of without anyone noticing, and Peter was so anxious to do right by Neal, actually, that he snapped easily, and it wasn't as if Neal hadn't given him more than one reason to be suspicious since he'd gotten him out. Neal trusted him—he just didn't want to compromise him. Neal knew it wasn't about Peter putting his job on the line for him when he'd first convinced Hughes to agree to the deal; Peter wanted Neal to understand that he could work within the bounds of the law and still be free. He didn't want to chase him anymore, and once Neal had understood that Peter didn't want to change him, just the legality of his modus operandi, he had found himself being tempted. Peter had always fascinated him, from the very first time he'd seen him. Peter was the only one good enough—slowly, Neal had comprehended that that didn't just go for catching him. Kate had sometimes joked that she had to share Neal with Peter, not just with his art, and she'd been right. He'd felt a thrill whenever he wondered whether Peter would recognize him in his work, imagined him walking a crime scene and knowing that Neal had done it, though, of course, being unable to prove any of it. Well. Most of it. It was the same thrill he felt when Peter had to work outside the law for once and they pulled Burke's Seven. Peter was a beautiful con, and it had been that moment when Neal had first acknowledged to himself that perhaps the con wasn't the thing he wanted most in his life anymore—it was conning with Peter. And there was only the one side of the law on which he could fulfil that dream. It had taken Neal a long time to understand that, in his own way, Peter was a con artist by trade, too. He conned suspects and witnesses on a daily basis—from getting a group of giggling Chinese girls to think he was just a hobnailed policeman to pulling an actual con with Neal, trapping a very powerful opponent. Neal was his roper and inside man when he worked undercover, and it was only very slowly that he recognized the value of their arrangement. Value that might even transcend the mighty power of a tracking anklet…
His attraction to the FBI agent had taken its beginnings much earlier than that: from the first day on, that fateful day they'd met outside the bank, Neal had been sure the only one who'd ever catch him would be Peter Burke. He didn't even jokingly resent him for chasing him—they had different opinions on what was the right way of making a living, but Neal could never resist smarts. He'd simply liked him immediately, and, God dammit, found him attractive, too. There was something in Peter's eyes, something in the set of his mouth that Neal couldn't stop staring at whenever Mozzie brought him new surveillance photos—the FBI had an eye on him, he had an eye on them. One of them, at least.
When he got out of prison with his anklet on, Neal tried to ignore the tension between him and Peter. He didn't think the other man would reciprocate his feelings, and he didn't want to make things even more complicated than they already were. Peter was up shit creek, with no paddles, if Neal messed up, God knew how much faster they'd throw him back into Sing Sing and Peter out of his office if the Bureau got wind of the fact that their consultant was pining for his agent. However, that became harder and harder to do, no thanks to Elizabeth, who kept dropping hints that he should just talk to Peter about it (hints, Peter later told him, she'd been dropping on her brother's head like a set of anvils every other week). But he knew that he had to prove himself not just to Peter, but to the rest of the team, and while at the beginning he had planned to use his momentary freedom as a dive board into finding and taking off with Kate, things had changed over the past months. He had come to care for these people, and somehow also the work he was doing for and with them. He'd begun to doubt whether Kate had ever really loved him, and at some point he'd been more in love with the idea of her, and the life they could have had together. That much had become painfully clear to him when he'd so readily given up the ring in his race to get Peter back after Keller had him kidnapped. Sometimes, Neal wondered what it would have been like if he'd gone away with Kate, if the plane hadn't been rigged to explode. Perhaps he'd have realized much too late that he'd given up something good in exchange for someone who'd left the one he'd loved behind and changed into a person beyond recognition.
When Fowler used operation MENTOR for his own ends, he tried to split up Neal and Peter, because he knew that, together, they were the only ones who could stop him; Kate was just the decoy to throw Neal off and keep him preoccupied and paranoid. When Keller wanted revenge, he abducted Peter to get to Neal. Kate put a gun between herself and Peter when he came to find her, to offer his help and voice his concerns. Divide and conquer, over and over again, except it never worked. Everyone seemed to have realized that Peter and Neal were the new leads in this play, everyone but the two men themselves. Neal remembered the time he thought he believed that Peter had Kate—and then, only a day later, that moment in the vault when he was running out of air, his consciousness fading, and all he could see was Peter, frantically trying to save them both. When he told Peter to take the mouthpiece, he knew that he'd always trust Peter more than anyone else, and that he was gigantically stupid to have ever thought that he couldn't. More than that: if he was willing to bet his life on that, then what else would he lay down on the line for him? When Peter did not take his hand off Neal's chest, practically addicted to feeling the steady rise and fall beneath his fingers, Neal knew. But it was a long time until he allowed himself to believe it.
Even while he was using them to get Kate back, even while he was planning to get on that plane and fly far, far away, he trusted Peter, wanted to be his friend. He was his friend. The two concepts weren't mutually exclusive. He was just another man standing between two lovers.
When Peter thought of that case, all he felt was fear. Fear that Neal might have given his life because he wouldn't let them share the mouthpiece, fear that he might have failed his best friend. He didn't begrudge Neal for thinking that he had Kate—after all, he had almost sent Neal back to prison for something Fowler had tried to pin on him. In the vault, everything had suddenly become almost frighteningly clear. The one moment, he'd been frantic, trying to find the button that would save Neal, but when his partner was on the floor, having found it himself, unresponsive when Peter shook him gently, and Avery was aiming a rifle at them, Peter calmed. He didn't care if Avery shot him, he'd shoot Avery first, to make sure that Neal would be safe.
Neal had first acted on his feelings, though that had been a bit of an accident: after he'd called Elizabeth for help and she'd smuggled him into Peter's house, Neal had managed to convince his friend that he'd been framed by Fowler, and Peter had agreed to help him, Neal had gotten up to leave through the backdoor. However, somewhere along the way, leaving transformed into leaning down as he passed Peter, and kissing him—just a quick, but lingering peck on the lips. To say thanks, to reassure him, just as a non-verbal, 'see you later.' Neal couldn't have explained if he'd tried. It just seemed the right thing to do, and although neither he nor Peter mentioned it until much later, Neal would spend many a sleepless night wondering about the surprised, but nowhere near horrified expression on Peter's upturned face as he'd pulled away and quickly left the house.
When things just wouldn't become awkward between them, not even when Neal continued looking for Kate, Neal was both glad and disappointed. Sure, Peter didn't hold off in telling him that he thought Kate was a bad idea, but Neal never quite detected the jealousy some part of him seemed to be craving. Then again—poker face.
He thought of Mozzie's face when he'd realized that Neal had, in fact, fallen for Peter, fallen hard for a suit, as he put it, of course. He'd been dropping hints as to Neal's lack of a problem with the "leash" he was being kept on before, but the actual revelation came as a bit of a shock. He'd told Neal to make up his mind but otherwise refrained from commenting. It was a plus for Peter that Moz really liked Elizabeth—or Miss Suit, as he'd dubbed her due to her family connection—or he might not have been quite so willingly helpful with teaching Peter the art of pick-pocketing. Also, he probably wouldn't have stopped dropping by unannounced when Neal and Pete eventually started seeing each other.
But, lately, their friendship was becoming strained. Jones' words kept haunting Neal: "Making a choice means sacrifice. You sacrifice something you want for something you want more." Moz had accusingly told him that he'd changed, but Neal didn't think of it that way. Sure, he'd changed the way people were changed by life, by losing someone they loved to an explosion, by having their lives turned upside down. Neal didn't feel as if he were betraying ideals or himself. He didn't have the kind of political reasons that Mozzie had for living outside the law—Neal had always made good fun of the conspiracy theories, but he'd never belittled him. It was just that Neal's reasons for becoming a liar and a thief lay somewhere else in his family's past. Perhaps that made him more available for alternative perspectives, but Neal knew that Mr Haversham was a uniquely intelligent man with his heart in the right place. Just as Neal had hoped that everything could've gone back to how it had been with Kate, Moz expected him to return to the old way when his time with the FBI was over. Of course he did, Neal was his best and longest friend. Peter and Moz had struck up a working relationship, but for Moz, this was temporary. No matter how Neal decided, he was in danger of losing one of the two people who meant the most to him, and both would see it as a personal failure.
People would think that Neal and Pater had gotten together directly after the abduction, or after that case they'd solved in a bloody airtight box with ten seconds left to breathe. But it hadn't been any of those big moments that had them give in to their mutual attraction—it always was the little things with them.
There had been nothing but paperwork for days when Peter grabbed Neal as he went past his desk, and took him out for lunch, unmindful of the knowing smiles that Diana, Jones, and Lauren exchanged behind their retreating backs. The three had long since started a bit of a surveillance programme whenever they had a moment to observe Peter and Neal together. At some point, a simple sigh when they came out of a meeting was enough to express entire sentences, like, 'the levels of sexual frustration in there should kill anyone with a pulse.'
Obviously, they'd all been wary of Neal in the beginning, and they wouldn't have worked with him so readily if they didn't trust their boss. They didn't think that a romantic attachment might cloud Agent Burke's judgement—because, if it did, he'd been doing remarkable work in exactly that state for six years now, including catching Neal. No-one who looked closely enough could miss the fascination Neal evoked in Peter, and no-one could be blind enough to overlook how much Neal felt for the man who'd caught him—again. Both admired each other, despite their differences (concerning both rap sheet and character). Theoretically, they were a match made in Heaven. They had chemistry, they were brilliant, together, they could con and cuff anyone—and they were so obviously in love with each other that it hurt.
Of course they knew that this was a potentially very bad idea—the bosses better shouldn't hear about this before the anklet came off, or Agent Burke would lose his job. Although Hughes probably would have joined their betting pool if he could have—they couldn't imagine that he hadn't noticed. Still, while he may be inclined to turn a blind eye, OPR certainly wouldn't. Affairs between agents and their consultants weren't rare, and they were usually tolerated as long as they didn't crash the team or the cases—but with someone as high profile as Neal, and as important for the Bureau as Peter, the usual standards didn't quite apply. Jones, Diana, and Lauren had agreed to cover for the two as long and as far as their duties and conscience allowed them to. They wouldn't outright lie to anyone's faces, and they wouldn't play matchmakers or sit back if an investigation were in danger of being compromised, but as long as they could feign ignorance, they would. In the meantime, they'd just watch the banter, the side-long glances when the other wasn't looking, or the searing stares across the conference table, all wishing someone had bothered to bring some popcorn every other day.
Peter and Neal had never been short on conversation material, but they rarely had the time to talk about anything else than work or their immediate situation. At lunch, they started off talking about work, but Peter seemed to have something on the backburner that he wanted to discuss with Neal even as their conversation drifted to other things—family, literature, art, and their past together. During that lunch, Peter didn't reveal what he had on his mind. But the next day, he called Neal into his office around lunchtime and procured a box of delicious sandwiches and a few napkins.
"Peter? What's going on?"
"You haven't eaten since I gate-crashed your breakfast this morning."
"Have you been watching me?"
Peter threw him an amazed look. "I'm always watching you."
Neal tilted his head and narrowed his eyes at his partner, even while accepting a sandwich and tucking in. "You really do like playing that card, don't you?" He didn't mean it derisively, the anklet and all responsibility that came with it had become more of a teasing matter the longer it went on. The underlying threat, the notion that Peter had verbalized very early on—"You belong to me now"—didn't faze Neal as much as it probably should have. With Peter, it meant to protect as well as control. The one was born from the way he cared about his friend, the other from the nature of their work relationship, and it was just going to be part of it until the arrangement changed. Neal wasn't being taken advantage of, rather, he was taking advantage of the system—he got something out of this, too. The anklet was the price to pay, and he'd rather pay it with Peter at his side than any other agent. The FBI could throw his perky ass back in jail, but their rate of solved cases would drop like a medium-sized bag of bricks, and they knew it. And he had an all-access pass, and a ticket to freedom—whatever freedom might look like when the time for decisions came.
"It's a privilege," Peter replied, shaking Neal out of his musings, and winked at him.
Like this, they continued the next few days, before Neal caught on to lunch becoming a thing and started dragging Peter out of his office himself to introduce him to his favourite cafés within his radius, until they were assigned a new case and their eating habits turned erratic again.
"How can you bring along surprise spring rolls to the office one day, and then munch on deviled ham in the car the next?" Neal queried incredulously.
Peter threw him a disgruntled look, but remained silent.
"No. Don't tell me that both are highlights of metropolitan cuisine for you. Not when this stake-out could last all night."
"They taste fine to me," Peter defended his impromptu dinner. He'd never understand how Neal could get so worked up about food preparation, bonvivant that he was.
"Yeah, well, I'm not kissing you again until you've brushed your teeth," Neal muttered under his breath, but not quietly enough for Peter not to hear it. Neal promptly slapped his hand over his mouth and inwardly cringed. He hadn't quite planned on broadcasting that the little smooch they'd shared a while ago was still rather… present in his mind. They hadn't talked about it at all, and it hadn't stood between them. It was just… there, and now Neal had unwittingly drawn attention to it. Carefully, he moved his eyes to look over at Peter, who, in turn, was watching Neal more out of the corner of his eye, mid-bite. Like this, they regarded each other for a minute, before Peter shrugged, finished his bite, and muttered, "Alright," around it.
"Let me rephrase: what the hell does that mean?"
"I know what you meant."
"And we'll have to cut this short, 'cause our suspect's just left the house, carrying something that looks suspiciously like a painting to me." With that, Peter dropped his dinner into the zippo bag, turned the ignition, and called the team for back-up in a concentrated manner that told Neal that this conversation was on hold until further notice. Defiantly, he grumbled, "And you look ridiculous with a deviled ham sandwich stuck to the front of your face."
At five in the morning of that same night, Neal and Peter stumbled into the den of Peter's house, completely beat and bedraggled. The stake-out had turned into a chase all through the city to track down the meeting place, then into a regular undercover operation as Neal acted the part of a corrupt gallery assistant to ID the fence and secure the arrests. It had taken a lot of sharp turns and improvisation to get here, and Peter had simply offered Neal to crash on his couch, so Neal wouldn't have to walk home through the pouring rain.
They collapsed on the sofa, heedless of the fur they'd get all over their coats for not taking off the comforter that Satchmo always got to sleep on when El took him along on a visit. Neal let his head bump on the backrest, almost painfully aware of how close Peter was sitting next to him: their shoulders and their thighs were aligned and pressed together, making it all too easy for Neal to smell Peter's aftershave and to feel the heat that his body radiated. Whenever he was in close quarters with his agent—in team meetings, or when Neal was reading something over his shoulder, or in that damn surveillance van—Neal literally tingled; and this wasn't the best time or place to start tingling.
Suddenly, Peter clapped his hand on Neal's knee and got up with a new-found energy, which made Neal crack an eye open.
"Be right back," Peter replied, signalling him to stay put. Neal shrugged and at least bothered to take off his coat, suit, jacket, and tie. He toed off his shows and took off his socks, enjoying the feel of the soft carpet underneath his bare soles, rolled up his shirtsleeves, and took down the comforter, minding the dog hair—he loved Satchmo, but he didn't want to wear him on his clothes. Tilting his head, Neal listened for noises from Peter, who had gone upstairs, probably to change. He was just wondering whether he should follow and ask for a change of clothes he could wear to sleep—although the few hours they were going to get before they had to go back to the office to wrap up the case were hardly worth calling it sleep—when he heard steps on the landing.
"Yup, coming," the agent answered and appeared in the den, a little more fresh-faced than five minutes ago, and also just in shirtsleeves, slacks, and barefoot. Neal turned and found Peter looking at him with a strange glint in his eyes, he even seemed a little nervous.
Peter glanced down at his feet for a second before meeting Neal's eyes again, smiling almost sheepishly.
"I've brushed my teeth."
Neal searched Peter's eyes for a moment, looking for any signs of hesitation or uncertainty, but his partner's face was open and there was an expectant half-smile on his lips. Slowly, he stepped closer to Peter until they were only centimetres apart. He leaned forward, never taking his eyes off Peter's, giving him the chance to back away until the last second. When their lips were almost touching, when they breathed each other's air, Neal whispered, enjoying the way his lips brushed against Peter's.
"If we do this… can we ever go back?" He didn't want this to sound this like an ultimatum, but he had to know whether Peter was sure about this—this would change everything, and Neal didn't want any regrets like that between them. Peter's smile widened at this, just a little, and then he closed the gap, sealing his mouth over Neal's. Both men's eyes fell closed once they got too caught up in their kiss to even remotely care about their surroundings. Struggling to keep their breathing deep and even, they let their lips slide against each other, until Peter nipped at Neal's bottom lip with his teeth and the conman's breath hitched traitorously. Now, all the bets were off: Neal raised his hands to bury them in his partner's hair, lightly pulling at it, making Peter growl low in his throat. His eyes still closed and his mouth never leaving Neal's, he retaliated by ever so gently placing his hands on Neal's hips, using his thumbs to draw lazy circles, feeling the skin through one of those expensive, tailored silk shirts heat up.
Suddenly, though, his grip tightened and he pulled Neal flush against his body, eliciting the surprised gasp he had expected. Feeling the other's arousal like this, their kiss became more passionate, and soon both had trouble remembering their names. Neal's tongue wrapped around Peter's, drew it into his own mouth, and he revelled in the moment. Small puffs of breath were ghosting over his left cheek and he wondered if they'd remember to pull away before one of them lost all thought of oxygen and lung function. Apparently, Peter had the same concerns, because he broke the kiss and angled his upper body a little away from Neal, raising his eyes to him.
"Should we take this upstairs?"
Neal nodded wordlessly, and Peter took his hands and walked backwards to the stairs, pulling Neal with him. A grin spread on Neal's face as he gave Peter subtle directions by squeezing his thumbs in his hands so they wouldn't bump into the banister. Peter raised his eyebrows questioningly, but Neal just shook his head. When they reached the stairs, Peter turned sideways as to avoid falling, so Neal grabbed the opportunity to step up next to him and latch onto his neck with his mouth, feeling Peter's pulse beneath his lips, while steadying them with his hands on Peter's hips this time as they stumbled a little. Peter, tipping his head back under Neal's ministrations, took a hold of the front of Neal's shirt collar, dragging him up the steps with him at a faster pace. As they practically tripped onto the landing and towards the bedroom, their hands seemed to move of their own accord, beginning to undo shirt buttons with fingers not quite trembling, sliding the fabric off of shoulders, allowing them to trace the heat of each other's bodies skin to skin. Neal wrapped his arms around Peter's neck, pressing against his chest, angling his head to capture his mouth again. Peter responded to the kiss, but had the presence of mind to wind his left arm around Neal's waist to support his weight as he leaned in on him, and extend his right arm behind himself to feel around for the doorknob before his back could take an unwanted exception to unyielding wood, thanks to Neal's enthusiasm. With effort, he used the opening door as leverage to pivot them around the corner, effectively turning them so he could push Neal towards the bed. Neal reached down to tug at Peter's sweat pants impatiently, loosening the strings to pull them off of his partner's hips, so Peter lowered his hands to go to work on Neal's belt and slacks, all the while marvelling at how they were managing to do this without breaking the kiss, which seemed to deepen by the second, though Peter would have sworn before that two people's mouths couldn't get any more intimately acquainted than theirs had been when it started outside the door.
When both men's trousers helpfully decided to drop on their ankles, Peter pulled away from Neal's lips, grinned, and, upon the questioning look on the other man's face, just gave him a little shove. Neal, who hadn't been expecting that, gave a little yelp of surprise, but didn't try to rebalance, just let himself fall back onto the mattress, from where he gazed up at Peter with a mischievous smile and held out his right hand. Peter took it, stepped out of sweatpants pooled at his feet, and straddled Neal's thighs, both groaning when that particular move let their groins collide. With the added friction provided by their boxer briefs—Neal's black, Peter's white: talk about nomen est omen—the borders between pleasure and pain started to blur even now; and they'd barely gotten anywhere really naughty yet. Peter bent down to lay open-mouthed kisses on Neal's neck, shoulders, and chest, nipping at the soft skin with his teeth, soothing the odd sting with his tongue. Neal arched his back, pushing upwards, a soft, guttural groan escaping his throat, which Peter propped up above him by his arms on Neal's either side, took as encouragement. He hummed against the younger man's skin as a sort of reply, then decided to up the ante—and promptly went lower to teasingly bite Neal's left nipple, for which he earned a moan that somehow became a strangled giggle and a swat on the arm. Peter raised his head.
"Nah! You're ticklish?"
Neal rolled his eyes, knowing he'd never live that down, before remembering to put on his poker face. "What about you, Peter? Are you… sensitive?"
At the glint in Neal's eyes, Peter squinted at him for a moment, but he had no time to ask before Neal rolled them over, pinning Peter down with his hips and trapping Peter's arms by seizing his wrists and holding them down on the bed beside his head. It was Peter's turn to grin, in that slightly dangerous way he had whenever he was forced to improvise on a case, when he had to get them out of a tight spot with no plan to speak of, and when he was enjoying it possibly more than he should. Neal always grinned back—he knew this (in comparison to him) slightly sturdy-looking cop was just as adventurous as Neal's own good self. Peter was beautiful to him.
Both saw more in each other than what met the eye: Neal wasn't just the pretty boy, and Peter was hiding, one, a few well-toned muscles underneath those horrible suits and, two, a reckless intellect underneath that calm cop façade he showed anyone who wanted to underestimate him, only to show them how much they really shouldn't have done that, later.
Peter gently traced Neal's lips with his tongue, renewing his request for entrance, which Neal happily granted. Their lips were searing hot against each other when their tongues met, as if for the first time, again, now that they were sure where to take this. Neal would never get enough of Peter's taste—minty, of course, that wonderful man had indeed brushed his teeth, but there was something there that must be uniquely Peter. Deepening the kiss, pressing into him, angling his head further to the right, Neal wanted more, more of Peter's taste, of his essence. Peter, astute observer that he was, picked up on his lover's urgency and responded with the same ferocity, virtually plundering Neal's mouth.
They kissed until they had to come up for air, and when they did, Neal decided he'd had it. He sat back a little, hooked his thumbs into the waistband of Peter's briefs, and looked at Peter a simple question in his eyes. Peter smiled and nodded—Neal grinned, and yanked them down, then quickly divested himself of his own. Both all but sighed with relief: nearly painfully erect, their members practically bounced free—Neal would have felt ridiculous if he'd had the sense to even think properly. Completely naked, he leaned down towards Peter, kissing his collarbone. Almost tentatively, they bucked their hips at the same time, neither capable of stifling a gasp. Their engorged flesh, hot and heavy against the other's, pulsed with the friction, and the oversensitive nerves tingled with euphoria. Neal, feeling the onset of desperate ecstasy settling in the pit of his stomach, ground into Peter again, who opened his thighs at the unspoken request, letting Neal sink even deeper into him. Neal moved to prop himself up further on his elbows, but Peter stopped him by reaching around his shoulders and pulling him down until he was resting snugly on top of Peter's chest, their loins pressed together, legs tangling almost automatically, Peter dragging his right foot up and down Neal's calf without thinking. Neal's lank body was lightweight compared to his own heavier build, and Peter enjoyed the feeling of having that atop him, pushing him deeper into the mattress. He stroked a persistent lock of hair out of Neal's eyes and cupped his cheek, to which Neal smiled and bowed his head to kiss Peter softly. As the kiss deepened, they slowly started moving their hips, smoothly sliding against each other, both trying not to give in and let their movements become frantic with arousal just yet.
Peter raised his legs and wrapped them around Neal's thighs, pulling him into his body, their contours melding together perfectly. While their tongues battled for dominance, Peter arched his back, urging Neal on, who pulled away and looked at Peter with an open expression on his face, trying to show he didn't have any expectations.
"We don't have to go all the way tonight, Peter."
"But maybe we'd like to," Peter replied swiftly, but with the same openness in his voice. They smiled in unison, and Peter reached to the side to open a drawer in the bedside table, pulling out a bottle of lube and a packet of condoms that he had stashed in there at some point over the last few months. He had been berating himself for it, for holding out hope that something like this might happen, but there he was. Here they were.
Neal stared at what Peter had produced from the drawer, his mouth going dry. On a rainy Friday morning in a seemingly ordinary FBI agent's bedroom, Neal's wildest dreams were coming true. He swooped in to kiss Peter languidly, drawing out the strokes of his tongue, going deliberately slowly in anticipation of the movements their mouths were mimicking. Peter readjusted his hips, rubbing his erection more insistently against Neal's thigh, making himself groan. Neal shuddered involuntarily and snaked his left hand down, trailing it over Peter's skin, leaving tingles in its wake, and circled Peter's shaft with his middle finger and thumb. Peter's head fall back into the pillows and he nearly dropped the lube and the condoms.
"Speaking of," Neal mumbled against his mouth and started massaging Peter's erection in even strokes, which sent the older man reeling. Peter uncapped the bottle with his thumb and held it up. Neal ceased his caresses and reached out his hand, wordlessly tilting his head, as if asking, 'where do you want this to go?'
Peter dug his heels into the back of Neal's thighs, drawing him in deeper. Squeezing the bottle, he squirted a nut-sized amount of lube onto Neal's fingers. With a small smile, he answered Neal's unspoken question.
"I want you inside me."
Neal's eyes widened, but then he groaned at the mere delicious thought. He spread the lube on his fingers, angling his hips to the side so he could reach between their bodies. He circled Peter's opening with his index finger, eliciting a gasp from Peter, who bucked up his hips to push down on Neal's hand. Neal slowly pressed in, past the tight ring of muscles, with only one finger at first. At Peter's keening moan, his own urgency took hold of his self-control. He added a second finger, slowly pushing in and out, scissoring them to prepare Peter, who was meeting his careful thrusts eagerly. They settled into a slow rhythm, and Neal couldn't stop staring at Peter writhing underneath him, his muscles undulating and rippling under soft skin, beads of sweat standing on his collarbones. Peter fisted his left hand in Neal's rich hair, urging him to bow his head, then met him halfway to kiss him, hard and demanding. Neal, of course, noticed the change in tune and withdrew his fingers, spreading the excess lube on his own erection, lining up his groin so the head nudged Peter's entrance. Locking eyes, they both stilled for a moment, before Neal pushed in inch by inch, watching Peter's mouth fell open, lips forming the shape of an O, caught up in the bliss of the moment.
The two men handed themselves over to pleasure from that instant on, their hips rolling into each other. Neal captured Peter's lips with his again, and they went on breathing each other's air until Neal hit that sweet spot inside of Peter. The agent's breath caught in his throat, and he broke the kiss to sink his teeth into Neal's shoulder instead. Their thrusts were becoming frantic, and as Neal felt himself getting closer to climax, he reached down to massage Peter's erection, concentrating to time his strokes off-beat with the thrusts of his hips pounding into Peter. Peter's eyes rolled back into his head and he arched his back, lifting them off the mattress. When they came crashing back down again, Neal's tip hit Peter's prostate with such momentum that Peter's orgasm was practically ripped from him, taking Neal over the edge with him. Peter came in spurts all over Neal's chest and stomach as Neal emptied himself into Peter, both breathlessly panting out each other's names. Neal nearly collapsed on top of Peter, minding to slip out of him carefully and tossing the condom in the general direction of the bin. Peter, again, just held him in place, though he fumbled for an edge of the sheet to perfunctorily clean them up before settling into the warmth that surrounded them. Gently trailing his right hand up and down Neal's back, Peter pressed a kiss to Neal's temple.
Neal hummed softly and buried his face in the crook of Peter's neck. "It's all connected, isn't it?" His voice was a bit muffled, but Peter understood mumbling Neal any day.
"Lunch. This. The way you kept staring at me when you thought I wasn't looking. Deviled ham."
Peter chuckled and nuzzled his nose into Neal's hair. "Maybe."
"What got you?"
"What d'you mean?"
"Come on, we've always been staring, we've always been flirting, sort of, we've grabbed lunch before. What got you in a way that getting shot at, getting kidnapped, nearly suffocating in a vault full of Batman's underpants couldn't do?"
Peter squirmed a little, but after a minute of silence, he sighed.
"But my dreams, they aren't as empty, as my conscience seems to be."
Peter didn't know where the very thought had come from, or since when Limp Bizkit songs taken out of context prompted any sort of awakening in him, but hearing this line on the radio on the way to work one day had him recall the dream he had indeed had that night. In the morning before taking Neal out to lunch, Peter realized that the kind of dreams he had, about Neal, about Neal writhing underneath him, about Neal on top of him, touching him everywhere, were weighing just as heavily on his mind, though they were nothing but fantasy, as if they were reality. And Peter felt guilty for hiding those dreams, hiding his attraction from Neal, the one person who deserved to know, because even though he seemed as serene and professional as ever, there was something brewing. He hadn't done anything untoward, but he so wished he could. Was his conscience really so empty, then? Was the prerequisite for having a clear conscience other people, or oneself?
Neal pulled back a little and looked at him inquisitively. "You thought it was already weighing on your mind, so you might as well do it for real?"
Peter could tell from Neal's tone that he wasn't getting angry, he was rather waiting for Peter to realize how silly that had sounded. He inclined his head in deference to Neal's objection.
"No, it's just that I realized that I wanted you too badly to deny it any longer and expect to stay sane."
Neal grinned and settled back in, kissing Peter's chin. "So you decided to woo me, huh? That's better, thank you. Limp Bizkit, though?"
"Don't," Peter growled and pinched Neal's arm, who yelped a little but quickly recovered and reached around to poke the agent's butt. This amazing display of adult conflict resolution then deteriorated into a somewhat frenzied tickling war, with both men rolling around, beneath and on top of each other, trying to find the most ticklish spots, throwing a few pinches and nipping in there as well. But the longer it lasted, the more the silliness gave way to something else: to electric sparks whenever skin brushed skin in particularly sensitive parts. Their hips took on lives of their own, coming together in a slow rhythm, their pinches and tickles turned into caresses, their mouths found each other again. The air around and between them filled with heat as their arousal heightened. They ground against each other and, in unison, they gasped, and Neal blindly reached for the lube again.
The moon was still twinkling through the windows in Neal's bedroom while Peter regarded his lover with a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"And what am I thinking?"
Still staring into Peter's eyes in the dark, Neal nestled closer to him under the covers, breathing a low sigh.
"You're thinking that I'm ridiculously cute at three in the morning."
Peter chuckled and closed his eyes, putting a hand on Neal's chest. It was true, because that was the only thing that bore thinking about in the dead of night. Just until they had to get out of bed the next morning, the real world could go to hell.