Wine and Truth, Part 3
by J. Rosemary Moss
"He gave you a key?" El repeated from the bed, eyebrows raised. She couldn't help but smile, however. She was almost as fascinated by Neal Caffrey's antics as her husband was.
Peter nodded as he undressed. "Yup. Not only does he invite me up to dinner; he gives me a key to his place afterwards and tells me to let myself in come morning. The kid has balls--I've got to give him that."
"But he was drunk," El pointed out.
"Yeah--and on a crying jag," Peter said as he climbed into the bed and wrapped his arm around his wife. " I think his plan was to get me drunk too, but that didn't work out so well."
"It's that hard Irish head," El said, rolling her eyes as she snuggled against him. "You don't think there's any chance he'll confess and turn himself in, do you?"
Peter sighed. "No. Shame though. I'm starting to like the kid."
Elizabeth looked up at him, flashing him a playful smile. "My competition--that's how I think of him. Sometimes you seem to know more about him than you know about me."
Her husband grinned. "That's because he's my job," he said, leaning down to kiss her.
Her smile turned sultry as she wrapped her arms around his neck. "Well, let me see if I can make you forget about work."
Peter wasn't sure what to expect when he let himself into Neal's apartment the next morning. He went in cautiously--not that he was really expecting a trap, but he didn't want to be caught unawares.
He was pretty sure the kid would still be there; another agent had continued the stake out last night, and he hadn't reported any movement. Still, Neal had been known to disappear before . . . but not today. Peter found him in his bedroom, still in bed, bundled in his blankets.
He stood there for a moment, staring down at him. At length the kid opened his eyes--slowly, as if there was pain involved. The hangover had set in.
"Hey," Neal whispered, squinting at him. "I wasn't sure you would come."
"Why not? You gave me a key."
The kid managed a grin. "I know. I just wasn't--never mind." He paused, looking Peter over. "Guess I'm not at my prettiest, huh? You don't look like you want to tear my clothes off right now."
Peter grinned as he took a seat on the edge of the bed. "I couldn't even if I wanted to, remember? No screwing suspects."
"Right, I remember now," Neal said. "No screwing suspects; no spanking suspects." He paused and shook his head regretfully. "Tough life."
"Yeah, the Bureau never lets us have any fun," Peter agreed as he resisted the urge to reach out and ruffle Neal's hair. How did this kid get this kind of reaction from him? Why was Peter regretting the fact that he couldn't just bring him home and look after him?
Must be that damned 'lost-puppy' look.
One thing was certain: Peter would have to fight this fondness he felt for Neal. He'd go to bat for him if he confessed--but apart from that, the kid was just a job.
Neal shut his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again they were glassy. "I don't feel too good."
"That's because you're about to hurl your guts out," Peter said as he stood up and pulled Neal to his feet. "Come on. Let's get you to the bathroom."
Peter was still here. That fact rolled around Neal's mind as he leaned over the toilet, hurling up everything he had eaten and, more importantly, drank last night. What a waste of good food and wine.
But Peter was still here. He even had a hand on Neal's back, steadying him. Comforting him.
When nothing more would come up, Peter led Neal back to the bed and told him to sit down. Then the agent brought him a glass of water, held it to his mouth and ordered him to drink up. When Neal finished, Peter set the glass on a table, pushed Neal back down on the bed and pulled the covers back over him.
Neal must have drifted off, but when he opened his eyes again, he saw Peter sitting in a chair near the bed, reading the Daily News--the back section, where the sports were.
Neal smiled as he sat up. "Still here?"
Peter nodded without looking up from the paper. "I'm still hoping to bring you in for a confession."
"Why not?" the agent asked as he put down the paper. "You're going to get caught, Neal. You'll do much less time if you come with me now."
Neal considered him. "I made you my offer," he said slowly. "If you forgive and forget my past, I'll let you teach me how to behave myself in the future."
Peter snorted. "Your past isn't mine to forgive. Think how many people lost money or even went bankrupt because of your money laundering and fraudulent stocks and bonds."
"Alleged money laundering and alleged fraudulent stocks and bonds," Neal corrected. "And if you're worried about the people who suffered because of those alleged crimes, why are you willing to let me confess to just the least of them?"
Peter gave him a look, as if the answer was obvious. "Because a lighter sentence is the reward for turning yourself in."
Neal kept his smile in place, even as he rolled his eyes. "So it comes back to rules and regulations and the way things are supposed to be, huh? And according to those rules, people who confess get lighter sentences."
He paused and leaned forward, toward the agent. "How do I get you to ignore the rules, Peter?"
"You don't," Peter retorted as he leaned toward Neal. "I'm not a childish genius who thinks the rules don't apply to him because he's so damn special."
Neal's smile turned sour. "I'm not a genius, remember? I have talent--but no genius, except for imitation."
"And that gives you an excuse for all the cons and frauds?"
"Alleged cons and alleged frauds."
Peter managed a small smile at that. "So your answer is no?"
Neal shrugged. "I never confess to the authorities."
"Then we're done here," Peter told him.
Neal watched as the agent stood up, grabbed his coat and took a business card out of it.
"I already know your number," Neal informed him, before Peter could hand him the card. "Your home number, your cell number and your office number. All by heart."
Peter stared at him for a moment. "Good. Think this over Neal--call me any time if you change your mind." He paused and his eyes seemed to soften. "Be careful today, especially if you're sick again. Keep drinking water so you don't dehydrate."
Neal flashed him a triumphant grin. "You can't help but take care of me."
"Yeah, well, you've got that lost-puppy look down pat," Peter admitted. "But I'm still going to put your ass behind bars."
"You've got to find some evidence first, Peter."
"I will. So do yourself a favor and call me soon to tell me you've come to your senses."
Neal sighed. "We both know that's not going to happen. But thanks for coming up and looking after me--last night and this morning."
Peter nodded. "Where do you want me to leave the key?"
"Keep it," Neal said as he laid himself back down and snuggled under the covers. "I've got nothing to hide here--you can come up whenever you want. Can I call you next time I'm not feeling well?"
"No," Peter said. But he was smiling a little as he said it--and Neal bet he was still smiling, even as he walked out and shut the door behind him.
SIX YEARS LATER . . .
Neal woke up from a dozing sleep as he felt the weight on his bed change--Satchmo had just jumped off and somebody else had just sat down on the edge of it. He opened his eyes and found Peter staring down at him.
"Hey Sleeping Beauty," the agent said. "How you feeling?"
"Ok," he answered through a yawn. "Elizabeth makes good soup."
"Yeah, she does," Peter agreed, giving him a critical look. "You're not looking too good, though."
Neal lapsed into a coughing fit and then managed a smile. "Does it matter? You're still not allowed to screw me, right?"
"It might raise some eyebrows at the office--and El might have something to say about it."
"Hey Elizabeth!" Neal called out in the loudest voice he could muster through his bronchitis.
She must have been upstairs already, because she stuck her head into the guest room a moment later. "What's wrong?"
"Would you share Peter with me?"
She winked at him. "I've been sharing him with you for years. Go for it."
Peter rolled his eyes. "Thanks for the display of jealousy, El."
"No problem," she said sweetly as she left the room.
Peter turned back to Neal. "The Bureau would still have a problem with it, so I'm going to have to resist your charm--although you're not quite so charming with that cough."
Neal grinned. "You're still all about the rules and regulations."
"Right now I'm all about getting you better. Did you take your antibiotics?"
"Yes--and the cough medicine, I swear it."
"Good. I need you back." He paused to put a hand on Neal's shoulder. "Turns out you have a genius for white collar criminal investigations--a real genius, not just talent."
"Fancy that. Guess I won't have to go back to forging art."
"Allegedly forging art," Peter corrected.
Neal's grin widened. "I'm a bad influence on you, partner."
"Don't call me that," Peter ordered as he ruffled Neal's hair. "Now get some rest."
"You still can't resist taking care of me," Neal taunted.
"No, I can't," Peter owned as he stood up.
Neal cocked his head. "That's it? You're going to let me have the last word? You're not going to brag about having thrown my ass in prison, just like you promised?"
"I'm not even going to threaten to haul it back in there--not today," Peter said as he pulled an extra cover up over Neal.
Neal gave him a satisfied nod as he shut his eyes. "I'm definitely a bad influence on you," he whispered.
He sensed Peter's answering smile as he drifted off to sleep.