If his clearance rate hadn't been enough, Peter is pretty sure Neal would have earned his semi-freedom just for the fact that, when he turns to Peter and says, "So, about Elizabeth's birthday next week," he manages not to sound as if he's just checking to make sure Peter hasn't forgotten it.
"Uh, yeah, what about it?" Peter tries to sound as if he hadn't, in fact, forgotten completely. He's pretty sure he's not as successful as Neal was.
"I was kinda thinking I'd like to do something for her. Well, for both of you, actually." Neal sounds distracted, blasé, and as if this is the least important thing he's discussed all day. Peter is immediately on red alert.
"Why would you want to do that?" he asks suspiciously.
Neal glances up at him, his expression open. "To make Elizabeth happy, of course!" he exclaims.
Peter can't stop the guffaw that bursts out of him. Neal really looks at him, then, and his mask slips. He looks wounded – actually wounded, not the puppy-dog face he pulls whenever Peter expressly forbids him to do something of questionable legality that he's already planning to do anyways. Peter sobers quickly. "Yeah, okay," he says. "What's the plan?"
"It's kind of a secret, actually," Neal says, grinning again.
"Neal..." Peter warns, already regretting whatever he's agreed to.
Neal holds up his hands in an attempt to placate him. "Nothing bad, I promise – nothing illegal. You have my actual word on that. Just don't make any plans for next Friday, okay? And tell Elizabeth to dress nice – and to make sure you're wearing a tie that matches your suit."
Peter glances down at his tie automatically, then snaps his head back up and glares at Neal. Neal shrugs, his eyes sparkling, and Peter feels an answering smile tug at his own lips. One of these days he's got to learn how to stay mad at Neal. For some reason, that's been getting harder and harder lately, no matter how outrageous some of Neal's stunts have been. And now he's committed himself and El to an evening at Neal's mercy?
"You'd better not make me regret this, Neal," he says, going back to his paperwork and doing his best to push all inappropriate thoughts out of his mind.
He regrets it, all right, regrets it the moment the limo – the limo! - pulls up outside their house. Only the light in Elizabeth's eyes stops him from calling the whole thing off. That and the fact that when the driver hops out to open the door for them, it's not Havisham. Havisham would have been a deal-breaker, Peter thinks.
El settles into the plush leather seat with a soft ooh. "And he didn't tell you anything? About where we're going?" she asks again.
"Not a thing," Peter admits. "I looked at the map, tried to guess at the places in his radius that require dressing up, but. Too many options."
El looks at him fondly. "You did too, didn't you." He shrugs and takes a moment to appreciate the results of Neal's dress code – El is stunning in a tight silky purple sheath thing that bares her shoulders, and he can't get over her legs in the black seamed stockings she's got on. She snuggles into his side and runs her fingertips down the smooth length of his tie, the third one he'd chosen and the only one she'd let him wear. "It got you to dress up, at least," she says, tucking her head under his chin. "That's practically a gift on its own."
Peter chokes off his instinctive denial and drops a kiss on the top of her head. "Funny, I was thinking the same thing," he says. He doesn't wonder how he started being willing to dress up on Neal's say-so, just stares out the window at the city lights and enjoys El's warm weight.
The car pulls to the curb all too soon, and when the driver hands El out and Peter clambers out after her, he's not entirely surprised to see they're at June's.
El looks at him uncertainly. "Honey?" she asks, and Peter rolls his eyes. He holds out his arm for her and leads her up the stairs, and mentally puts himself in Neal's hands for the evening.
God help him.
The door opens before they get there and music leaks out into the street. El gasps delightedly and floats through the door ahead of Peter, transferring her grip from his arm to Neal's. Neal, who's dressed in an even spiffier suit than usual, grins at El and then at Peter before leaning in to kiss El on both cheeks.
"Happy birthday, Elizabeth," he says, taking her hands in his and drawing back to appreciate her outfit. "Twenty-nine at last, isn't it?"
El laughs and swats at him. "Thirty-six," she says truthfully, "and don't you dare tell me how much younger you are, I don't want to know. Now, what's all this secrecy about? I hope you didn't steal me a birthday present, Neal, Peter won't be very happy."
Peter startles – he hadn't even considered the possibility – but dismisses it after a look at Neal. That isn't his 'innocent' face, or his 'pay no attention to that man behind the curtain' face, or even his new 'I thought it was legal at the time' face. Peter still doesn't know what Neal's planning, but it's probably not theft.
"Nothing so gauche, El," Neal says, pained. "I wanted to take you guys out on the town, dinner, dancing, le jazz hot, but none of the places nearby met my approval." Here he flicks a glance at Peter, to be sure he doesn't miss the little jab. "But June and Cindy are away, and the house is empty, and I thought, why not bring the jazz here?"
He ushers her through to the back of the house, one hand in the small of her back, and Peter isn't sure what's weirder, how great Neal and his wife look together or how little he minds that fact. He hasn't decided when he hears Elizabeth squeal from the next room. "Neal! You cooked, too?"
"He cooks," Peter mutters, following them. "Of course he cooks."
"Neal, are those crawfish boulettes?"
"Try one," Neal urges, and Peter walks through the door to see Neal hand-feeding Elizabeth. He pops something in her mouth and then licks his own fingers, looking smug as she closes her eyes and moans.
Peter walks up behind her and puts a hand on her shoulder, to steady her, or maybe to steady himself. He lifts his eyebrows at Neal in inquiry.
"Want one?" Neal asks. He picks up another little ball and holds it out, smirking. Peter leans forward and nips it out of his fingers neatly, enjoying the surprise Neal can't quite mask.
Then heat blooms in his mouth and sweat pops out along his hairline. He chews and swallows quickly. "Wow," he says, looking around for something to drink. "That was... really hot."
Neal is looking at him a little oddly. "Yeah," he says. "Just wait till the main course. Wine?" El giggles, and Peter isn't sure why.
The rest of the food is equally delicious and equally spicy, and Neal spins them a story about working as a cook in New Orleans for a week that gets less plausible the more wine they drink. Peter sheds clothes as he eats, the spices and the alcohol warming his blood, and when he finally pushes his plate away he's got the top two buttons of his shirt undone and is seriously considering whether he can loosen his waistband without El – or Neal – commenting. Neal, he notices, still looks like the poster boy for 1950s GQ, and El, in her off-the-shoulder outfit, is lightly flushed in a way that just makes her look sexier.
Peter decides he'd better leave his trousers buttoned for now.
"Okay," Neal announces, bounding up to clear their plates. "Dessert?"
"Neal, no," El protests. "I know they claim calories consumed on your birthday don't count, but it's not actually true."
"Then you need to work some of them off first," Neal announces from another room, and the volume of the music increases, trumpets blaring and Nina Simone crooning. He quicksteps back into the room, spins around, and offers El his hand in a move that would be ridiculous on any other guy. From Neal, it just looks slick.
El tosses one quick, slightly panicked glance at Peter, but Neal is a force of nature, and he has her up on her feet and in his arms in a moment and finding a rhythm the next.
Peter leans back and appreciates the picture for a minute. They're both beautiful – there's no other word for it, the way they move – and he wonders what would have happened if they'd gone out dancing instead of staying in. Neal probably would have had all the girls in the club, and some of the guys, all over him, and Peter might never have seen this: the way the two most important people in his life fit together so perfectly.
Peter's never thought of himself as quick. Even after a decade on the job, he's still slow and methodical, preferring to lay all the pieces out before trying to connect them. But when he makes that leap and things click into place, he knows if it's right. And now that he's made this connection... he knows.
The music shifts to something softer and he stands up as Neal and El pause. Both are breathing heavily and laughing and Peter can't believe his luck. "My turn?" he asks, and Neal steps away, clearly intending to let Peter dance with El. But Peter grabs Neal's hands instead and draws him into a loose embrace.
They don't settle into a rhythm as quickly, and Peter's not sure whether that's his fault or because Neal is still taken aback. But just like before, eventually they click, and he's dancing with Neal Caffrey.
Neal still hasn't said anything, and Peter thinks this might be a record for the longest he's seen Neal keep quiet. "Don't tell me this is something you didn't know about me, Caffrey," he says roughly.
Neal shakes his head jerkily. "Of course I knew," he says, sounding as if his very honour has been impugned. "I just." He slides his hand down Peter's side and onto his hip. "I just didn't know."
Peter has to bend his head and kiss him, then, has to capture that clever mouth with his own. They stop dancing, swaying in place instead as Peter cups Neal's face in both hands and presses into him.
Neal pulls back, and Peter looks up from his swollen mouth to see El standing behind him. Her eyes are dark and her fingers are working on the knot of Neal's tie. "Happy birthday to me," she says archly, and leans around Neal's shoulder to kiss Peter just as thoroughly as he was just kissing Neal.
He gets a look at Neal's face out of the corner of his eye. It's absolutely priceless.
El sees it too. "Oh, honey," she chides, dropping his tie over a chair and going to work on his waistcoat instead. "Don't even try to look as if you hadn't planned this all along. Modesty doesn't become you."
Neal grins lazily and runs his hands through her complicated updo, bringing her hair down to cascade around her shoulders. "I just love it when a plan comes together," he says, and now it's their turn to kiss, apparently.
Peter blinks – had they both seen this coming? – and then very deliberately decides that it doesn't matter. He steps up behind Elizabeth and grinds against her, pushing her forward into Neal. She shimmies back against him, still kissing Neal, and Peter ups the ante, tugging at the zipper that runs down her spine.
That gets a reaction – she steps away from the two of them to peel the dress off slowly. She draws it over her breasts and turns away as if she's shy, only to wiggle her ass at them as she steps out of it. She's showing off, and Peter loves it. When she's finally standing there, hands on her hips, all stockings and lingerie and sassy, wicked smile, Peter feels like he's ready to burst, in more ways than one.
He shares a look with Neal and they both start tugging at each other's clothing. "Peter, you are one of the luckiest men on earth," Neal says, unbuttoning Peter's fly and watching El watch them.
Peter has to laugh at that. He pulls Neal close by his collar and kisses him again, El waiting for them and Neal's fingers on his dick and Ella scatting in the background. "Yeah," he says. "I think I am."