“You ask him yet?”
Neal tried on a look of incomprehension—it had been weeks since that conversation, after all.
No dice. Jones just crossed his arms and gave him a level look.
“You gonna ask him tonight?”
“No,” Neal said briefly.
“Why not?” asked Jones.
Neal thought yearningly of a life where no one knew his real name, or who he was fucking, or cared enough to ask him intrusive personal questions about it. In Ecuador, maybe.
“Because I don't want the answer,” Neal said, which seemed to him an inarguable reason for not asking the question.
“You know,” said Jones conversationally, “for a man who's been in Supermax, you're kind of a pussy.”
“You know,” said Neal, “for a man who didn't want this to be happening, you're kind of a yenta.”
“I just want Peter on his A game,” said Jones. “If I can't make it go away, then I want it settled.” He paused. “You want me to ask him?”
The look of sheer, unadulterated horror on Neal's face cracked Jones up.
“What's so funny?” asked Peter as he came through the glass doors.
“Nothing,” said Neal fervently. “Nothing at all.”
“I don't wanna know, do I,” Peter said to Jones.
Jones shrugged. “Apparently that's going around.”
It felt strange to be standing next to Neal in a museum, after hours, with no alarms blaring and no backup. Peter reached out, then stopped short. “You sure it's okay to touch it?”
The curator smiled. “It's survived a thousand years, you're not gonna hurt it. Go ahead, pick it up.”
So Peter did—an actual, no-shit Viking sword. It was heavier than he expected, more like a bat than the fencing foils Neal liked to play with, but Peter was good with bats. He swung it slowly, experimentally, looking for the position where it felt natural.
Neal, grinning, snapped a picture with his phone. Peter sheepishly lowered the sword back to the table top, looking self-conscious. “What are you doing?”
“Texting Elizabeth. She'll love it.”
She would, too. Peter's smile was permission, not that Neal ever waited for that.
The curator, a surprisingly youthful blond woman with freckles and pigtails, walked them over to the centerpiece of the whole exhibition—a longship.
“It's a reproduction, of course,” she explained. “All they originally found at the burial site was the hardware. I was part of the team that built it, in Iceland. We sailed it to America last summer. It took forever!” She stroked the wood possessively. “I rowed crew in college, so I thought I knew what I was getting into. I think I still have the blisters!”
For all her complaints, she positively glowed when she talked about it. Kind of like him when he talked about working with Neal, Peter realized.
Speaking of which, “How did Caffrey talk you into this private viewing anyway?” Peter asked her.
In no way was he suspicious that Neal had dated, or at least flirted, his way into getting them this VIP tour. For one thing, Neal had a perfect right to date anyone he wanted. For another, outdoorsy and fresh faced had never been his thing.
“I owed him a favor,” she said easily.
Peter turned his glare on Neal. “Should I be checking for any of this on Interpol?” Peter's expansive gesture indicated a case full of amber beads and turtle broaches.
“Not guilty,” Neal professed. “I gave Hanna a little security advice, that's all. Set a thief to catch a thief,” he quoted.
“We're not used to much attention,” the curator explained. “Once the Vikings TV show came out, we started getting a ton more visitors. It's been great for the museum, but we weren't set up for it. We lost a piece from here the first week.”
She gestured to another display of arm and neck bands. Neal was eying the jewelry and Peter's biceps speculatively. “No, Neal,” Peter said firmly. “So if it was you, you can put it back right now.”
“Just enjoying the mental picture,” Neal murmured into Peter's ear, and Peter had a feeling there was a charcoal sketch of him gone raiding in his future.
Peter led them over to a display of helms in various states of preservation. Most had rivets. Some had nose guards. One even had a spike on the top. But...
“No horns?” Peter asked Hanna.
She shook her head. “Sorry. It's a myth.”
“They might have some in the Met's costume collection,” Neal offered. “They were invented for Wagner’s Nibelungenlied.” Off Peter's mystified look, Neal clarified, “The Ring Cycle. 19th century opera? Never mind.”
“They had cats, though,” Hanna offered, as if it were a consolation prize. “On the ships. And it turned out a bunch of the raiders were women.”
“Diana will like that,” Peter observed.
Neal checked his watch—an actual pocket watch, just because his vest happened to have a pocket for it, which had Peter rolling his eyes a bit. Neal was so Neal sometimes.
Neal kissed the woman's cheek. “Thanks Hanna. We'd better go. We have reservations at Scandinavia House.”
“You'll love it,” she enthused. “Get the gravlaks. It's fantastic.”
Neal's smile lit his eyes. “He'll have the Swedish meatballs.”
He did, too, and they were pretty damned good, even if he could have bought five times as many at Ikea for the same price.
Peter looked at Neal across the candle-lit table. “Did you do all this just because I said I wanted to go to Sweden once?”
Neal nodded. “Since Stockholm's a little out of my radius....” He gestured around them. He would if he could, too, Peter realized, just sweep Peter up and take him to Europe for the weekend. Peter was used to Neal's crazy ideas of how to conduct a romance, he just wasn't used to having them turned on him.
Something occurred to Peter. “Do you realize, this is our first real date?” he demanded.
Neal failed to meet his eyes. “....I did, yeah. Good thing we got that awkward first kiss out of the way.”
Peter gripped Neal's knee under the table. “It's pretty great. Wish I'd had you around when I was first dating Elizabeth.”
Belatedly, Peter realized that was kind of a tactless thing to say, but Neal didn't seem to mind.
“I was pretty young then,” Neal said. “I've gotten better with practice.” He gestured at Peter's plate. “You done?”
“Sure, unless you want more Akavit. Why?”
“Because I want to have time for the sauna. And the Swedish massage.”
“You really don't have to work this hard to get me naked, you know,” Peter mentioned.
“Sometimes I like doing things the hard way.”