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Taking Liberties

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Neal found Kate on the eighteenth of March, in a hotel on the Upper West Side exactly fifty yards beyond the edge of his two-mile radius. The clock started ticking in his head the minute he cut the strap and stepped over the invisible line, and he didn't stay with her for long. Just long enough to confirm what he already knew, what he didn't want to know. Peter.

"I don't know what he wants," she whispered, trembling in his arms. "Neal, he said you'd be in jail for the rest of your life if I didn't do what he said. He wouldn't tell me what he wanted." She laughed, and it was only a little bitter. "You can't believe how glad I was you lied about San Diego."

He gave her the plane ticket and the information for the bank account in France, and keys to the apartment in Paris that Mozzie had rented for him two weeks ago. "I'll find you there," he said, and kissed her goodbye, once, quick. Then he went.

He'd planned this out for a while. There was a not-quite-hidden-enough trail that pointed to a cheap furnished room on the fifth floor of an old, half-abandoned tenement building in Alphabet City, but only after you thought about it. He waited in the coffee shop across the street until he saw the light go on, saw the one shadow moving around, and then he picked up the bag carefully stowed at his feet and went over. On the fourth floor landing, he took out the gun.

Peter was at the window when Neal walked in. "Hello, Peter," Neal said. He sounded strangely calm to his own ears. "Please sit down. I don't have much time, and I've got a few questions." His hands were steady.

Peter didn't seem surprised. He sat down slowly on the couch, behind the generic coffee table, his eyes flicking once to the gun and back to Neal's face. "Okay, hit me," Peter said.

Neal had a list. But looking at Peter, at Peter's face, what came out was the real question. "Tell me you didn't do it," Neal said. "Tell me you didn't—you weren't keeping Kate all this time, tell me—"

Peter looked at him steadily, unalarmed, and Neal raised the gun a little more, signaling he meant it. Right now, he did. "No," Peter said. "No, I can't do that. Sorry, Neal. I can't make it easy for you this time."

"Easy for—" Neal cut off, sharp. His breath hurt. Peter was just sitting there, saying he—and Neal was right here with a fucking gun, and Peter didn't seem to get that this was it, the end, everything coming down and coming apart: the messy crash of a failed con. "All of this—getting Kate, getting me out, the last six months," Neal said. "Tell me something, Peter, what was it for? What did you even want so badly? You know, Mozzie thinks it's George Washington's love letters, but—"

Peter leaned over. There was a flat manila envelope lying on the coffee table, unmarked; Neal hadn't noticed it before. Peter pushed it across at him. "Open it," Peter said.

"You open it," Neal said, wary. Peter didn't argue, just picked up the envelope and slid out a thin sheet of yellowish butcher paper with a scribble. He laid it down, and Neal gave it a quick glance, not taking his eyes off Peter for longer than that, and then he looked again, chill climbing up his back as he recognized the Magritte.

"Washington's love letters sound pretty good," Peter said. "But I figured this would make the point."

"Where did you get—"

"What, you don't remember where you keep all this stuff?" Peter said. "Your Louisville cache. I found it the last week of August. It was the toughest one to track down of the six."

August. One week before Kate had come to see him for the last time. One week before all of this had started. The world turned slowly upside down, all over again.

"I don't—" Neal said, staring at the Magritte, and then he jerked his head back up and kept the gun on Peter. He was trying to put the pieces together in a new order that made sense, and nothing worked. Peter had the caches. He'd had them all along. Millions of dollars, jewels, artwork—everything Neal hadn't sold, it was all there. Sure, Peter could be lying, but he wasn't. The Louisville one had been the best one. If he'd found that one, he'd found them all.

"Why?" Neal said. It came out raw. "What did you—what has this even been about, if—"

Peter leaned forward and gave him that look—that fucking look, the one where Neal had missed something, and Peter had it, and right this second it made Neal want to blow his head off. And then Peter said, "Neal, there's only one thing you've got that I have any interest in."

"Kate," Neal said, going cold, but before he could get all the way there, Peter snorted, so much fucking amusement in the sound. "What?" Neal said, and glared at him.

"Kate's a dime a dozen," Peter said. "Most guys like you have ten of her scattered all over the world. Beautiful girls who like the good life and don't mind too much how they get it. No, Neal, not Kate."

"Fine," Neal said, pissed off, except it was the wrong kind of angry. He was off his game, so badly. Conned worse than he'd ever conned anyone in his life, and the rage of that was leaking away like water. All he had left was the sticky ocean floor underneath: this pathetic, helpless hope that Peter would make this not real, would make this all go away somehow. "So what, then?"

"You," Peter said, "you dumbass," and the pieces started to drop in Neal's head like the tumblers of a lock.

Get him on a relatively minor charge, a short sentence. The kind he'd suffer through instead of breaking out, because it would be worth it to have his slate clear again after. Leave him safely in prison, twiddling his thumbs, and take your time tracking down the caches, securing them one after another. Now if he tried to run, he'd have no resources, nothing to use. Make Kate think you want the caches, scare her, make her run—get him to break out to follow her, and you get him in a cakewalk. Another four years racked up, and they suddenly look endlessly long. Let him come to you, begging for a chance. Keep Kate close, on a leash just long enough, let her leave him clues. Keep him busy, give him work, fun work. Let him work his way up to being your partner. Let him learn to trust you. Let him—

"And you thought—you thought this was how to get me?" Neal said, his voice rising, and the worst part of it was that Peter was right, oh God, Peter was right, and Peter had gotten him, and it was going to take a knife to get him out again.

"No," Peter said, gently. "This was how to get you here. Now you choose."

"Choose what?" Neal said. "What choice have I got?"

Peter picked up the manila folder and shook it. A passport fell out, on top of the Magritte, with a plane ticket right behind it. "The flight leaves from JFK in three hours," Peter said. "You can take it. Or you can give me the gun, and we'll go get your tracker fixed."

Neal stared at it. Cage door, swung wide, and right now he really fucking wished he was on the side of the coffee table with the couch, because his legs didn't feel all that steady.

"When I started hunting you down, seven years ago," Peter said, into Neal's silence, "I figured you were like the others. I see a lot of guys like you in this job—smart, self-centered guys, too impatient to be traders, too greedy to settle for the kind of money you can make doing something real, spending their lives racking up trophies and adrenaline rushes. You know what makes you different?"

"Enlighten me," Neal said. He couldn't stop looking at the plane ticket, even though he should've been watching Peter. The gun was pointing more at the floor than anywhere else.

"You wanted something bigger to care about than just yourself," Peter said. "That's what Kate was for you, Neal." He paused. "She left, didn't she? You gave her a plane ticket and she ran."

"I told her to," Neal said.

"You think Elizabeth would leave me behind, in trouble, if I gave her a plane ticket and told her to run?" Peter asked.

Neal almost laughed, Elizabeth's expression vivid in front of him, the neat arch of her eyebrow, her mouth twisted at the corner in are you kidding me? and then it hit him how he hadn't even thought to draw that comparison. How there was none to be made.

"You threatened Kate," Neal said on automatic defense, although it felt hollow. "You're an FBI agent—you had her terrified—"

"Neal, come on," Peter said. "You think I had her chained up in a basement somewhere? And fed her alternate Tuesdays or something, between jobs?"

"You told her—"

"All I told her was the truth," Peter said. "I told her if she didn't do what I said, you'd spend pretty much your whole life in jail. Because that's where this goes." He tapped the plane ticket, the passport, the Magritte. "You can think you're not gonna get caught, but you will. You can think you're going to keep breaking out, but you'll get put in solitary with the mob bosses and the terrorists, and you'll never come out again." He shrugged. "You're worth better than that."

"You kept her away from me," Neal said, clinging on to the last shreds. "You lied to me."

"Yeah, I did," Peter said. "You needed the time to figure some things out."

"Like what?" Neal said. He meant it to be cutting, sarcastic. Instead it sounded more like he was really asking.

"It's not Kate that you want, Neal," Peter said. "This is what you want." He stood up, and held out his hand, beckoning. "Come on, give it here."

Neal stared at him while Peter took the gun out of his unresisting hand, ejected the cartridge, emptied the chamber—Peter with his poky, ordinary face, Everyman in an off-the-rack suit and a mouth that tried to be hard sometimes and never quite made it there, the permanent line across his forehead, who'd—who'd put his whole fucking career on the line, his life, who'd come to this room and sat in front of a gun, because he thought Neal was worth—

"Peter," Neal said, shakily.

Peter looked up from the gun, his eyebrows raised, and his mouth curved, just a little. "Don't get mushy on me," Peter said.

"Peter," Neal said, and leaned across the table and put his hand around behind Peter's head, his fingers curling into Peter's hair, and kissed him.

Peter made a muffled squawk of surprise. So that was something, at least, Neal thought dizzily, knocking over the coffee table to get over it without letting Peter go, plane ticket and passport and thirty thousand dollars of art tumbling to the floor while Neal tangled up with Peter and pulled him down onto the couch. At least Peter hadn't figured this out first.

#

Peter stared up at the ceiling afterwards, trying to figure out what had just happened. He'd relaxed—it was over, he had the gun apart in his hands, Neal was safe—and then all of a sudden Neal was kissing him and clothes were coming off, and by the time he'd processed half of that, he'd been on his back on the couch getting a frantic, messy, unbelievably fantastic blowjob.

"Elizabeth's going to kill me," he said. "Scratch that—she's going to kill us."

"Well," Neal said, "we could flip for who gets the plane ticket." He yawned, supremely and stupidly unconcerned, and tucked his head against Peter's shoulder. His mouth was pink, and his tie was still hanging loose around his neck, his shirt unbuttoned. All the hard, tense lines that had been crowding his face for the last month were gone.

"You couldn't go five minutes without being in love with somebody?" Peter said sourly. "Seriously, you broke up today, and next thing you're jumping me? This is a rebound, right?"

"Mm." Neal smiled without opening his eyes and pressed a kiss to Peter's collarbone.

Peter sighed and stroked Neal's head. Great. He'd wanted Neal, he'd gotten him. A little more of him than Peter knew what to do with.

His phone beeped at him. "All right, afterglow is over," Peter said, nudging Neal. "Come on, I've got about fifteen minutes to get you back to headquarters with a story about your tracker getting busted before they sic the hounds of hell on you. Come on."

Neal yawned, and stretched, and finally sat up. He stayed on the couch while they buttoned up again, grinning up at Peter full of self-satisfaction and possessiveness. Peter glared at him. It didn't have a whole lot of effect. Okay, it had zero effect.

Neal put a hand on his thigh in the cab while looking out the window, elaborately casual. Peter sighed and didn't bother nudging it off.

It took about four hours to straighten out the tangle that Neal had set off by cutting himself loose, no thanks to Neal himself, who kept bounding around the office like an overenthusiastic puppy brought home for the very first time, grinning at everyone, asking friendly personal questions about families and extracurriculars, even people he'd barely said three words to before. "Quit it," Peter told him. "You're creeping people out."

"I just—"

"Yeah, you're home, you want to pee on every rock, we get it," Peter said. Neal arranged his face into an offended expression, but it broke back into the grin again after a moment. And then he leaned in, and if Peter hadn't recovered from the what the hell reaction in time to fend him off, that would have been really entertaining to have to explain to Hughes.

Finally he got the ducks to line up, and hauled Neal out of there again, and then he had nowhere to take him except—home. Peter parked in front of the house and sat, swallowing. "So, uh," Peter said. "Let me do the talking, okay?"

"Absolutely," Neal said.

Elizabeth looked up from the stove as they came in the door, and brightened. She beamed at Peter. "You got him!"

"Yeah," Peter said, swallowing again. Oh, this was not going to go well. "Listen, honey—"

"Elizabeth, I'm really sorry," Neal said. "Peter and I had sex."

Peter paused and tried to recall the statutes on justifiable homicide. They had to cover this.

Elizabeth put down her spoon. "Kate...?" she said, doubtfully.

"Oh," Neal said, in thoughtful tones, "she's probably on her way to Paris right now. I should call her and let her know she doesn't have to keep hiding."

"She just left—?" Elizabeth stopped, shook her head disapprovingly. "Okay—Neal, you go get the plates and set the table. You, mister," she pointed at Peter, "out back with me."

Peter winced and slunk out after her. "I can explain," he said hurriedly, closing the back door behind him.

Elizabeth folded her arms and raised her eyebrows, sternly.

Peter paused. "Okay," he said after a minute, "I can't explain. I can beg for forgiveness?"

"When I signed on to this whole crazy plan of saving Neal you didn't mention it was going to involve jumping him!" El said.

"It didn't!" Peter said. "There was no jumping of Neal involved! There was jumping of me!"

"And you were totally unable to fend off an amorous Neal Caffrey," Elizabeth said pointedly.

"Well," Peter said feebly, "I—" He tried to come up with something else. "He—it—" He flailed around for anything, coming up empty, his mouth working like a fish, and then Elizabeth's stern face twitched a little. "Oh, thank God," Peter said, devoutly, reaching for her hands. "I'm not being divorced. Honey—"

El smacked him in the chest. "Shut up, I am not just letting you off the hook just yet. First of all, what happened? Did it work? Then we'll get to the many ways in which both of you will be making it up to me over an extended period of time."

"Yeah," Peter said, catching her hands anyway, pulling her in close. "Yeah, it worked. He knows everything, he's on board. He's just—"

"A little too on board?" El said, smiling, tipping her head back to look up at him.

"Yeah, you could say that," Peter said. "Trust our boy to do a one-eighty on me. I always figured he was going to be pissed at me for a month even if we did get him."

"Oh, I think he is," El said, thoughtfully. "Announcing it to me in the kitchen five seconds after you walk in the door?"

"I don't know, baby," Peter said. "He was, uh. Pretty happy."

"It's not like the two are exclusive," El said. "Speaking of which—"

"It won't happen again," Peter said immediately. Elizabeth's eyebrows went back up. Peter eyed her sidelong. "Is there another acceptable answer that I'm missing?"

"Maybe let's go for a more realistic one," Elizabeth said, dryly, and Peter winced, because yeah, okay; Neal had a bad way of getting to him. Plus, if Neal really was pissed, which El was a hundred percent right about, Peter belatedly realized, that just gave him twice the incentive.

"How about, it won't happen again unless I'm there," El said.

Peter goggled at her. "What?"

"What?" she said, eyes wide and innocent. "Why shouldn't I get to play?"

"Wait, but," Peter said.

"Mm-hm?" El said. Peter paused. Her expression said clearly there was a right way and a wrong way to respond here, and she hoped very much he picked the right way, and okay—okay, it was all kinds of messed up, but that had been a given from the minute he'd let Neal suck his dick because he hadn't been able to face saying no to the guy.

Actually, probably it'd been a given from the minute he'd come home halfway through year three of the chase, sat down heavily at the dining table with the dossier still in his hand, and El had said, "Tell me about it," quietly. And listened to him tell her about the big shiny fish that wasn't going to get away, the one who'd done it all not for greed, not for ego, just for love; the one who was going to rot his life away in a series of cells because he'd picked the wrong things to fall in love with.

"Well, honey, it's not like you didn't know it was always going to be about love for him," El said.

"Ah, hell," Peter said. He looked at her helplessly. "This is going to be seriously weird."

She laughed, and stretched up to kiss him. "I don't know. Sounds like fun to me."

Neal looked up from the table when they came in, studiously innocent as he kept doing some origami thing to the napkins. "Yeah," Peter said darkly, "don't even give me that look." Neal just widened his eyes, did the who-me? thing.

"All right, why don't we sit down and have dinner," Elizabeth said. "And then we can all go upstairs and go to bed together."

Peter waited with enormous anticipation for Neal to take his turn at the gaping-fish routine, except instead Neal just beamed at El, dropped his napkin chicken or whatever it was, and caught her around the waist to waltz her a couple steps. "We could go upstairs now, and have dinner after?" Neal said hopefully.

"Neal!" El said, laughing while he went kissing hungrily down her neck. "No! It's all going to burn."

"We'll order takeout?" Neal said. He slid around behind her, and he'd already somehow gotten her belt undone, slipping the leather free; her blouse was coming open. El was blushing pink under his fingers, his mouth pressing softly along the curve of her neck, along her shoulder as he bared it.

"Why am I the only person here who sees that this is completely nuts?" Peter said, grumbling to cover the fact that his breath was coming quicker, and went to turn off the stove.

#

Elizabeth was aware of Peter moving around downstairs, getting things settled, but okay, this was some distraction. If she'd been inclined to get on his case a lot more about letting Neal get away with whatever he'd gotten away with, this would've been a good time to forgive him, because Neal apparently had some extra hands he only brought out on special occasions, and where had her skirt even gone? She would've expected Neal's idea of sex to be some kind of fancy, choreographed thing, full of slinky moves, something that belonged in a penthouse hotel suite and not their second-story suburban bedroom. Instead Neal was just backing her onto the bed and stripping off with practical speed.

He climbed on and started kissing her thighs like he had something to prove. Not that she had any objections to that, it was good to have goals, and "Oh my God, Peter," she said, holding out her hand as he came into the bedroom, just as Neal got down to business.

"You know, anybody else—" Peter said, meaning someone finding his wife in bed getting head from another man, but he wasn't really angry—he couldn't get rid of that half-smile tugging at his mouth, even though he clearly wanted to be shocked, poor baby, and he was so checking Neal out. Then he laughed at himself and turned to take his suit off, putting it on the chair, and he was climbing in with them.

He kissed her and slid his hand into Neal's hair, tugged on it some, an easy possessive gesture—Elizabeth almost wanted to laugh how ridiculous Peter was, thinking he had any shot of getting out of this, because she felt how Neal shivered against her, his moan, the way his hips jerked against the sheets. She sank against Peter's shoulder, panting, and leaned her head back for more kisses, Neal's thumbs sliding alongside her folds while his tongue worked in, quick flicking movements.

"Yeah," Peter said, going a little hoarse, "yeah, like that, you're doing great," and Neal loved that, she could see him wanting more of that, and oh, he was trying so hard now, pulling out all the stops, teasing and nibbling at her, and this could really really work for her, she realized, shivering, with Peter's hand cupping her breast, thumb sliding wet over the nipple, watching over her shoulder with his eyes going dark and intent as her breath came faster and faster and oh, there, there, there, and over the edge, gasping out against Peter's neck.

"Oh boy," she said, when she could breathe again, and leaned up to kiss Peter again lazily, and then she looked down her body at Neal, who had his eyes closed and was panting against her thigh, still trembling himself.

"Been a while, huh?" Peter asked more gently, stroking Neal's head, and Neal's wry glance up answered—no one, no one since he'd gone in or gotten out; with all his flirting, with all the easy swing of his smile.

"All right," Peter said, and looked at her; she smiled back at him and nodded, and they went to work together, tugging Neal up between them. He came quick, hopeful, and sank into the space they opened up. He was hard, and Elizabeth cupped his face and kissed him, drawing him closer, his cock nudging up against her.

It was adorable to watch Peter's face, over his shoulder, somewhere wavering between okay this is hot and wait this should not be hot and I don't believe I'm doing this.

"I don't believe I'm doing this," Peter said, dryly, and then he had his hand around Neal's cock, angling him in.

"Oh," Neal said, strangled and trying to fight it, "oh, you're definitely doing this. That. Oh, God. Oh. Peter—"

"Okay, easy," Peter said, and Elizabeth hooked her leg over both of them as Peter eased Neal into her, his fingers brushing her at the same time. "Yeah?" Peter said, rubbing a thumb over her clit, checking in.

"Oh hell yes," Elizabeth said, panting, and Neal turned his head against Peter's chest, his eyes drifting shut, his mouth open a little. And mmm, how good he looked yielding against Peter like that, his beautiful face helpless with want; and Peter so solid behind him, with his hands all over both of them.

"Peter," Neal said, carefully calm, with an effort, "Peter, you could—"

"Oh, could I," Peter said, low, a grin in his voice.

"Peter," Neal said, whine creeping into it, and Peter laughed and rubbed his knuckles along Neal's neck.

"Okay, hang on," Peter said, and leaned over to kiss Elizabeth. "Don't let him go anywhere."

"He's staying right here," she promised, and held Neal in and not moving, her hands firm on his hips while they kept trying to twitch forward. Neal tipped his forehead against hers and panted through it, taut and waiting, while the noises of Peter rummaging around in the bathroom came back to them, faint clinking of the medicine cabinet door, jars.

"Come on, how long does it take," Neal groaned. "Does he always do this, just leave you hanging?" and Elizabeth laughed and kissed him, stroking her hands through his hair.

"Patience, grasshopper," Peter said, climbing back on the bed. "Good things come to those who wait."

"No, see, good things come to those who—oh," Neal said, and twitched. "Peter. Peter. Yes."

"Quit squirming," Peter said, just a little strained, and she got to see it happen, Neal catching his lip between his teeth, Peter sliding into him in the way Neal's face tightened up helplessly and then went soft again by inches, smile wobbling open at the corners of his mouth, going broad and happy as he rolled his head back against Peter's shoulder.

"Yeah, that's it, you're gonna take it for me," Peter said, low and satisfied, an order, and hello, she'd never thought that would be a turn-on, but oh yes, hearing him say it, and Neal saying, "Oh, am I?" and then clutching at her hip, hard enough to hurt, while he did take it, laughing and gasping at the same time, Peter's first thrust rocking through him into her.

"Damn, Peter," Neal said, high, going and gone as Peter fucked him, bravado dissolving into heavy breathing. He pulled her tight against him, hitching her thigh up higher so Peter was driving him deep, and Elizabeth threw her head back into it and reached out, lacing her fingers with Peter's on Neal's hip, and rode it all the way home.

"Yum," she said after, dreamily, and petted Neal's head where he had slid drunkenly against her on the pillows. The bed shifted as Peter got up—doing all the cleanup like a gentleman—and kissed them both, soft-eyed, before he went to get a towel.

Neal sighed and stretched, arching his back. "This was good, right?" he said, peeking at her, and she laughed and put her hand on his cheek.

"Yes, it was very good, and no, Neal, I don't mind that you're in love with my husband," she said, and kissed him. He had the grace to blush.

"I'm pretty fond of his wife, too," he said, recovering fast.

She laughed. "You'll get there," she said, smiling, and wider as he slowly grinned back at her, considering, already a little bit closer. "It's too bad Peter gave away all your stolen money, though," she added thoughtfully. "We're going to need a bigger house."