Disclaimer: Look, if it looks like something somebody could own and make money off of, it's a safe bet that I don't.
James William Waterhouse is an actual painter, and some of the facts related to him below are true. But not all of them.
Shakespeare's Hamlet is awesome. You don't really need to know anything about it to understand the story, but it might help. Maybe. You should really just go see it or read it. I'll wait.
Summary: Pre-series. Somewhere between New York and Peter's hotel room, Neal had managed to lose most of his clothes. Peter/Neal, sort-of-but-not-really.
Warnings: Some inappropriate language, implied past abuse and sexual violence.
A/N: This is... really weird. Like, really. It's kind of angsty, and random, and while I've been mulling this over in my head for a while I wrote it all in a bit of a rush. I'm not quite sure it actually makes any kind of sense. But what can you do? Enjoy:
Paris, April 2003
Peter sighed as he tossed the keys of the rented Citroen onto the tiny breakfast table, shutting the hotel room door behind him. He scrubbed a hand over his face. It had been one hell of a long day. 11:00 pm and he still hadn't found the stolen painting, Neal Caffrey, or a place to get decent coffee.
Peter's wallet and cell-phone landed next to his keys, and his shoulder holster followed. Tiredly, he unbuckled his belt and let it drop to the floor, then attempted to loosen his tie and kick out of his shoes at the same time and nearly ended up flat on his face.
In the bathroom, he brushed his teeth and splashed his face with cold water, attempting to avoid his reflection in the mirror. He stumbled back into the bedroom, wanting nothing more than to sleep.
"Hello, Peter," A voice called softly. Peter froze.
He turned slowly towards the noise and found himself looking at his sliding glass door -- his open sliding glass door -- and onto the small covered balcony four stories up beyond.
Caffrey sat outside on the railing, bare feet swinging slightly like a child on a swing, wineglass full of something old and red and expensive held loosely in one hand. He was watching Peter with an unreadable expression.
Well, there was one mystery solved.
"Hello, Neal," Peter answered.
He shouldn't be surprised. He really, really shouldn't be surprised. This was Neal Caffrey, after all, and if Peter ever hoped to catch the man he really should be used to things like this.
What was most surprising, though, was that apparently somewhere between New York and Peter's hotel room balcony, Caffrey had managed to lose most of his clothes.
Peter's eyes flicked down to Caffrey's bare chest, skin pale in the Paris moonlight. His muscles were taut and hard beneath his flawless skin. Unbelted black slacks clung to him low on his hips. Caffrey looked sculpted, like something hand-carved and Grecian he would've just loved to steal. Peter took a brief moment to silently curse the unfairness of the world.
His eyes moved back up to meet Caffrey's clear blue ones. The thief was watching him with a lopsided sardonic smile curving his lips. There was a light purple bruise on his cheek.
"Would you like some wine?" Caffrey offered, pointing to the bottle of dark glass sitting on the floor.
"No, thanks." Peter said shortly. "What are you doing here, Neal?" He asked carefully, slowly moving towards the breakfast table.
Caffrey gave a small laugh. "I came to see you, Peter, naturally." He swirled the dark wine in his glass.
"Oh, yeah?" Peter asked. A few more inches and he'd be at the table. His hand groped out slowly behind him.
Caffrey smiled. "Yeah. And don't bother, Peter." He added, holding up a hand. Moonlight sparked on something small and silver in Neal's palm. Peter's cell phone. Fuck.
Peter inclined his head. "Right."
At any rate, he grabbed his gun off of the table. In his peripherals, he barely saw Caffrey flinch.
"I wouldn't trouble with that too much, either." Caffrey said, holding up his other hand. Peter's clip was in it. Double fuck.
Peter sighed, running a hand over his mouth. He was going to get so much shit for this. Still, at least Caffrey hadn't taken the gun, too. "You could've just taken the whole damn thing, Neal. You know, sometimes I suspect you're not much of a criminal."
Caffrey shook his head, smiling. "I'm an excellent criminal."
The FBI agent snorted. "Yeah, well, you could've been an armed criminal, complete with his very own FBI agent hostage. Kind of dropped the ball on that one."
Neal shrugged. "I don't like guns."
Peter laughed. "I'm not actually a big fan of them myself, you know. But it's kind of in the job description, for both of us."
"I don't like them." His eyes were dark.
"Yeah, well, life's not always about what we like, kid." Peter said dryly.
"I'm not a kid," Caffrey pointed out. "Besides, what are you so bothered about? Would you have preferred I had taken it?"
"No, no," Peter said, holding up his hands. "Just curious, is all."
Caffrey smirked. "Right. So, any luck with the search for the Waterhouse?" He asked innocently.
Peter glared. "Oh, you've heard about that, have you?"
Caffrey's grin was impish. "Well, you know, it's kind of impressive. Famous painting never thought to be completed discovered in a musty old French attic, and goes missing just days after it's put on display?"
"Where's Ophelia, Neal?" Peter cut to the chase.
"No idea, Peter," Caffrey said cheerfully. "How 'bout you?"
"Ideas?" Peter snorted. "Oh, I've got a few."
Caffrey's grin grew to Cheshire cat proportions. "Do tell."
Peter hesitated, weighing the consequences of his answer. Finally, he shrugged. "Well, if say, there was a thief. An obnoxious, narcissistic thief. And if this thief somehow managed to get past state-of-the-art security in such a way that it boggled the minds of every French official out there, to steal a painting that isn't supposed to exist, and left no trace of himself behind, other than a bouquet of roses addressed to the American FBI. Then, well, I would think that this thief would've sold the painting to the highest bidder and gotten the hell out of the country before he did anything stupider. Of course, I could be wrong."
The thief mulled over Peter's answer. He gave him a charming grin, his white teeth flashing in the moonlight. "A commendable assessment, Agent Burke. Of course, if the thief sold the painting right away, he'd only make a small profit. Well, a large profit. A rather strikingly large profit, really. But only a small profit compared to the money he'd make if he sold the painting, say, six times."
"What are you saying?" Peter asked. Caffrey shrugged.
"If, say, this thief of yours had some talent at painting. Then, well, he could recreate the painting. Maybe six times, even. And since word would've gotten out already about this thief's rather remarkable heist, there would already be quite a few people eager to buy this painting. Eager to pay an extraordinarily large sum of money for this painting, in all sorts of denominations. And if they all thought they were getting the real thing, well..." Caffrey smiled, and then it looked like the Cheshire cat had caught the canary.
Peter stared. Jesus. The amount of money a scam like that could generate... well, Peter would be lucky to see a tenth of that all in one place before he died.
"Wait," Peter said suddenly. "Just wait. That's all well and good, but the buyers aren't exactly morons. Or at least, they've got enough cash to hire people to not be morons. And they've got experts at there fingertips just waiting to call foul and declare a painting a forgery. How the hell do you... does this thief expect to get around that?"
Caffrey's smile grew, impossibly, larger. "John William Waterhouse painted Ophelia three different times in his life, and planned a fourth in the series, but died of cancer in 1915 before he could complete it. However, recently -- to the shock and wonder of the art world -- the fourth painting was discovered almost completely finished."
"I know all this," Peter said impatiently.
Neal inclined his head. "Patience is a virtue, Peter. Anyway, the fourth painting, Ophelia in the Churchyard, was immediately placed under suspicion. It was compared for veracity against the original three paintings. It stands to reason that anyone who buys Ophelia in the Churchyard will check it the same way. Which, of course, would immediately expose the painting as a counterfeit, if excellent, recreation."
"Exactly," Peter said.
"Unless, of course," Caffrey continued. "Years before, completely unnoticed, the three original Waterhouse Ophelias had been stolen and replaced with forgeries done by this very same thief of yours."
Peter stared. "Jesus Christ, Neal."
Caffrey sipped his wine.
Something occurred to Peter. "Wait a minute... the original Ophelia in the Courtyard was compared to the first three Waterhouses."
"Yep," Caffrey agreed with a nod of his head.
"And it passed," Peter said. "It wouldn't have passed, unless..."
Caffrey raised an eyebrow. "Unless it too was made by the same artist as your thief?
"Which means that you must've already stolen the thing without anyone knowing and replaced it before the exhibit heist! So at the heist, you actually stole the forgery you had already planted, while you already had the original." Peter gaped. Caffrey laughed.
"If by 'you,' you mean your anonymous thief, of course." His eyes were light.
"Cut the crap, Neal," The special agent growled.
Caffrey leaned back on the railing casually, lifting his eyes to the stars. Peter watched his wiry muscles uncoil beneath his skin. He sighed softly.
"I always liked Hamlet, Peter." Caffrey said quietly. "I can understand why Waterhouse loved to paint Ophelia. She never really stood a chance, did she?"
Caffrey straightened up and met Peter's gaze again. Beneath his lashes, his eyes were dark and liquid and unreadable. The night pooled in the lavender bruise on his cheek, ugly on his angelic face.
"I liked to read Shakespeare as a kid. Madness and love and tragedy. It was how I first learned that words could be beautiful, that they could lead to romance or death or anything else you wanted them too. And it got me away for a while." His knuckles turned white as he gripped the wrought iron railing beneath him.
There was silence for a while. Paris was loud below them. Peter was trying desperately to come up with a plan that wouldn't end up with Caffrey slipping through his fingers yet again, and the grifter himself simply stared at the ground.
"You can call me Neal, you know." Caffrey suddenly broke the stillness.
Peter paused. "I do call you Neal."
"No, you only call me Neal to my face because that's what the FBI negotiation text book tells you to do. You're trying to establish a connection with the suspect. But you call me Caffrey in your head. Because you're trying to distance yourself from me. Aren't you, Peter? But you can call me Neal." He smiled slowly, taking a sip of his wine.
Peter stared. Goddamn him. Goddamn him to hell.
"Why would I do that, Neal?" Peter asked.
Neal slid off of the railing, landing lightly on the balcony. He took a few steps into the room and paused, framed by the Parisian night sky in the doorway.
"Because, Peter, maybe I don't want any distance between us." Neal wasn't looking at him as he spoke.
"What do you mean?" Peter asked nervously. Neal walked towards him slowly, feet silent on the thick hotel carpet. The wine climbed the edges of its glass as he moved, but Neal didn't spill a drop, cat-like and graceful. Peter wondered distantly if he had ever taken dance classes. He hadn't found out, yet, but...
His brain shuddered to a halt as Neal rested one slender, pianist finger on his skin lightly. Neal's finger slid over his cheek feather-light, skimming down to trace the hard edge of Peter's jawbone. Neal was close, close enough for Peter to see the entirety of the hotel room reflected in the glossy black of his dilated pupils.
Peter's breath quickened. He could hear the tattoo his pulse throbbing in his ears. His nails dug into his palms.
"What are you doing, Neal?" He asked, voice breaking.
Neal didn't answer, but two more fingers alit on Peter's skin, brushing past his throat and gliding back up to sketch the corner of Peter's mouth.
Peter grabbed Neal's hand and yanked it down.
"What the hell are you doing, Neal?" He demanded.
Neal's tongue flicked out, licking his lips. "What do you think I'm doing?" He asked softly, still close enough for his breath to brush Peter's face. His breath smelt like mint and coffee and wine.
"I have no fucking idea," Peter said. He realized with start he was still holding Neal's hand, clenching it so tightly he was crushing Neal's fingers together, the long joints red and bent. He let go quickly and took a step back.
"Jesus, Neal," He said, running a hand over his eyes. "Jesus Christ."
Neal looked away from him, eyes downcast, staring at the gray carpet like Michelangelo had painted the sequel to the Sistine Chapel on it. His dark lashes were lowered, and his chest rose and fell quickly with each hurried breath. The bruise on his face was starker under the lights of the hotel room than it had been in the night.
"You could have me, you know," Neal said quietly. His fingers twitched at his sides. "If you wanted me."
Peter's breath caught somewhere in the back of his throat and he stared at Neal. At Neal, eyes liquid and dark beneath shadowed lashes, standing half-naked in front of him.
"Jesus Christ, Neal. Do you think if you -- if you sleep with me, that I'll let you go?" Peter demanded. "Is that it?"
"No," Neal said quietly. "No, I don't think that."
He looked up, blue eyes wide. Hesitantly, he took a step towards Peter. Frozen, Peter didn't move.
Another step, and Neal was a whisker away. Peter stared at the curve of his collarbone, the smooth lines of his shoulders, the violet bruise on his face. And then he closed his eyes and saw nothing as the distance folded up between them and Neal kissed him.
Neal's lips were soft and dry and Peter could taste the rich red wine on them. Neal moved against him, tongue darting out and tracing the line between Peter's lips. He smelt like cologne and oil paints and soap, and Peter disappeared into the gentle rhythm of the kiss. Neal kissed like perfection, like old-fashioned romances and expensive taste and risking everything and winning it all.
Peter's eyes snapped open and he shoved Neal away as he gasped for air. Neal stumbled, falling backwards. The wine sloshed but didn't spill.
Peter closed his eyes and tried to calm his racing heart. He ran a shaky hand through his hair. Neal flinched.
The young con artist was breathing heavily, panting slightly through parted lips. He hunched in on himself, drawing away from Peter without actually stepping away.
Peter watched him, unsure of what to do. Neal didn't move.
He looked so young for a moment. Young and vulnerable and scared.
"You can have me, Peter," Neal repeated. Peter watched his fingers clench and open at his sides, wineglass still held loosely in his hands.
"Jesus, kid." He exclaimed. Neal took a step back, eyes still downcast.
Peter watched him retreat. "What do you think I'm going to do to you, Neal?" He asked quietly.
Neal gave a hoarse laugh that fell twisted and strangled into the air. "I'm thinking I'm a known criminal alone in a hotel room with an FBI agent. I'm thinking you'll do whatever the hell you want to me, and there's no way I can stop you." He said flatly.
"I'm not like that," Peter insisted, disgusted. Neal's arm wrapped around himself, holding himself protectively.
"Sure." He agreed bleakly.
"I'm married." Peter said flatly.
Neal shrugged. "I know."
"I'm not going to cheat on my wife," Peter insisted.
"Of course not." Neal said.
"Christ, Neal," Peter mumbled. "Speaking of which, where the hell is Kate?"
Neal looked up, eyes haunted. He gave another hopeless laugh, and Peter started to hate that sound. "Kate? Kate's gone. Kate's left. Adios." He rubbed at the purple bruise roughly. "Kate ain't never coming back."
"She'll come back if she's supposed to, Neal," Peter said uncertainly.
"Yeah, I guess she usually does." Neal whispered.
A lifetime passed. Peter wondered what the hell he was supposed to do.
"Well," Neal said impatiently. "Go ahead already!"
Peter stared. "What do you expect me to do?"
"I told you already," Neal said. "I expect you to do whatever you want."
"And I told you," Peter said. "I'm married."
"Lot's of people are married, Peter," Neal said sourly. "It's never stopped them before."
"Stopped who, Neal?" Peter questioned gently.
"Anyone. Everyone." Neal whispered, grip tightening around himself.
"I'm not going to do... that, Neal. I'm not going to do anything." Peter said hoarsely.
Neal shook his head. "Go ahead. Just go ahead. It's you, Peter -- who knows, I might even like it." His voice cracked.
"Neal," Peter said desperately. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Neal whimpered. The wineglass slipped from his fingers. It fell to the floor, shattering into a thousand glistening pieces, dark red alcohol soaking into the carpet. It looked like a bloodstain.
"Fuck!" Peter cried out, jumping back instinctively. Neal just stood there, broken glass lying around his bare feet. Peter grabbed him unthinkingly and pulled him away. Neal's eyes closed.
"Jesus, Neal, are you hurt?" Peter demanded, hand clamped around the thief's upper arm. Neal didn't answer.
Peter crouched down and examined Neal's legs and feet. There were a few shallow cuts with bright red blood welling sluggishly up in them, but he otherwise seemed unharmed. Peter breathed out unsteadily.
He looked up. Neal was standing rigidly above him, eyes still closed. He trembled.
"Neal," Peter unfolded himself and reached a hand out to Neal's face gently before pulling back.
"Neal, hey," He called. "Look at me."
Slowly, Neal's eyes opened. The blue was glossy with unshed tears.
Peter fumbled with words for a moment before hesitantly saying, "I won't hurt you Neal. I promise."
Neal's lips quirked into a smile and a tear escaped from his quivering eyes and slid down his skin, bright and glistening. "I'm a better liar than you, Peter." He said huskily.
Hesitantly, Peter touched him, hand resting lightly on Neal's shoulder. The thief flinched beneath him.
"'I have become as one incapable of my own distress,'" Neal quoted quietly. His eyes closed slowly.
Peter didn't know what to say to that.
For an instant, Neal collapsed against him. He was warm and shaking next to Peter, bare skin hot. Peter stood awkwardly as Neal melted into his skin.
After a lifetime, Neal's eyes opened.
He straightened, smiling at Peter. One hand reached up slowly and traced the curves of Peter's lips. Peter opened his mouth to say something, but before he could, Neal was gone.
He moved away from the FBI agent swiftly, running towards the open sliding glass door before Peter's mind could register what was happening.
"Neal, don't!" He cried, rushing after him. Neal stepped out onto the balcony and grabbed the railing with one hand. Without breaking stride, he vaulted over it.
Peter stared at his body frozen in the air for an instant, before Neal dropped and disappeared from sight. He dashed out onto the balcony, leaning over the railing and looking down.
Four stories below him, a pale green awning fluttered slightly. Neal was nowhere in sight. Peter cursed.
He rushed back into the hotel room. His cell phone and the clip from his gun were sitting on the rumpled bedclothes. Next to them was a piece of oragami.
Peter picked up the folded paper and examined it. It was a flower. He fingered the colorful paper for a moment before snatching up his cell phone.
"This is Special Agent Peter Burke," He snapped. "Suspect Neal Caffrey has been spotted."