Disclaimer: If I owned them, there would be no Kate. But there is, so I don't.
A/N: I made this up in the middle of the night, so the insanity is time related. Oh, and there are some "drunk phonetics" in there that have nothing to do with my inability to spell and everything to do with Neal's relative state of fried out of his mind drunkenness.
There's a moment--that moment--when everything changes.
Neal'd read a hundred (thousand?) stories that all used the same formula. And in each tale, there was that moment--when the aching wait for something momentous in the story to break, ended. Each story was pretty much the same, but it always wound around to a handful of well timed, almost stupidly cathartic events that lead the two intended lovers finally getting to be together. (Though he gave props where props were due, Disney had mixed it up a few times over the years, just to keep it fresh) But all the same, either the hero OR the Roguishly handsome ne'er-do-well-cum-anti-hero ended up with the ingénue.
Oh, it was never easy. But good stories were built on the formula of questing. They had strife, danger, misadventure and then a textbook--or rather storybook--happily ever after. You worked for it, and then it all came together.
Neal had worked enough. He was there. He'd had the danger, the misadventure, the sacrifice, the strife... Now he wanted his girl, dammit. He was ready for the moment to come already!
Laying there on the bathroom floor, staring at the tile, he was so ready he would happily beg for it.
He clumsily counted off the story components on his fingers. He'd accounted for everyone. The heroine, the hero, thesidekick (God love Mozzie), the supporting cast of troublemakers (which was who Peter and El definitely were) even the badguy. And there WAS a bad guy in this--not that Neal could give a name to the asshole. Or a face for that matter. He supposed he should just feel lucky that (whomever he was), Kate knew the jerk with the ring even was the badguy. Because sometimes the girl didn't at first realize the difference between the dashingly evil competition and her intended hero. And sometimes Neal wasn't sure which he was. (If anyone could pull off dashingly evil, it would be him.) But when it came down to it, he was the boy. And the boy always got the girl in the end. And he was going to get his girl, badguy-with-a-tacky-ring be damned. And that's all that mattered.
But there were....complications. (Oh boy, weren't' there just!)
Problem number one, as Neal saw it; the roguishly handsome ne'er-do-well wasn't ever supposed to be distracted from his pursuit of his lady fair by the very representation of the patriarch-ish hierarchical command structure that had him pegged as a ne'er-do-well in the first place. That's like Robin Hood ditching Marian to date the Sheriff of Nottingham. It JUST DOESN'T HAPPEN!
Problem number two; Said Sheriff's wife was not, NOT, NOT supposed to be an endearing, hot and understanding woman with a kink for seeing good-cop/bad-cop take on an altogether salacious connotation. She simply was just never a voyeur. Never.
Problem number three; the real world was apparently determined to intrude into his fairytale in the making--deviating his life drastically from the script. And it was choosing a starkly weird way to do it. Apparently the 21st century was birthing some damnably nontraditional leanings in the world of romance--this one was titled 'FBI: la comédie a La Cage'--and he was now caught in the middle of it. Which effectively messed up his plans to get his girl, get the loot, pick up his sidekick on the way out of town and ride off into the sunset.
All of this, of course, perfectly explained why he was laying on the floor of his apartment bathroom (thankfully alone), drunk (and once again very thankfully alone) after having shared the world's most tragically, radically bizarre dinner with El and Peter. A dinner which had largely featured Peter blushing askance (If one could said to be blushing in a particular direction) and El looking way, WAY too expectant (the woman was like a starved Velociraptor June Clever). Sadly, after escaping, drinking his weight in alcoholic beverages had been all he could come up with at the time--barring ruining Peter's life by running for the hills. It wasn't helping.
It would figure that getting stinky, blind drunk wasn't having the desired effect--namely that most wonderful of temporal cosmic fantasies, The Redo. Nope. Now he was not only achingly, horrendously, mind-numbingly, CATACLISMICLY hung-over (drunk-over? Since he wasn't sober yet.)--he was still forced to face the fact that Peter wanted him, El wanted to watch and he... he was just sick enough in the head to be considering it.
Where did that leave Kate?
What the hell was wrong with the world?
What the hell was wrong with him?
It's not like Peter was the first man he'd ever fancied the cut of. Neal was capable of being honest with himself every once in a while. It certainly wasn't the first time he'd danced along a dangerous edge either. In fact, he LOVED danger. And Peter--despite the pedestrian suit, the standard issue haircut and all the trappings of Main St. Boringsville--was indeed very dangerous. He was cute. Dangerously cute. Cutely dangerous? FBI light? Like lowfat yogurt, twice the control for half the rhetoric? Half the jail time?
Neal found himself giggling as he was sure only the terminally intoxicated could do and yet was helpless to stop until what he duly considered an ungodly sense of unwell, swept over him. Then he couldn't stop the groan of misery.
He drug himself up, introducing himself to the toilet bowl with a congenial pat on the rim. It wasn't the toilet's fault he'd drunk so much he was beyond getting sick. Not that he suspected the toilet was disappointed.
Did toilet's get disappointed?
God knows people did. He certainly did. He was disappointed in everyone these days. Peter and El for being unrepentantly invested in the insanity that was his life... And certainly he resented them for wanting him. For making him want them back... Mozzie for not finding the bastard with the ring yet. Kate for not just telling him what the fuck was going on... Himself for...for everything. But especially for even considering Peter and El's offer.
Even a little.
Alright, a lot. He'd considered it a lot. He was still considering it. Apparently no amount of alcohol erased the temptation. Which was really, really a scary thought. Regardless of Peter's decidedly 'Eliot Ness as a teddy bear' routine, Neal was always careful about keeping his eye on one prize at a time. It's what professionals in his field did. You chase after too much at once and things fall apart. And for an eternity now, Kate had been his numero uno prize. His fairytale girl. His one and only. His princess in a tower, his Odette, his Marian, his... his Raison d'être.
Who the hell did Peter and El think they were, trying to change all that?
Eventually soaking into what was currently passing for Neal's consciousness, came a knock. "Who the hell could that be?" he moaned into the toilet seat. The very nice, very clean, very cool, very supportive toilet didn't answer. Neil immediately named her Kate II. Kate 'the First' never answered anything either.
Neal patted toiletKate in gratitude of her lasting service and constancy (something Kate I could take a lesson on) and ignored the insistent, frighteningly 'Peter-ish' sounding voice calling his name. Maybe it was a Glen Garioch hallucination--he seemed to remember halfing a bottle of that right before crawling off to die with toiletKate. If he laid there and pretended to be as dead as he felt, then he was sure the world might (maybe?) mercifully dissolve.
Or maybe it might phase into one of those moments after all--where a fairytale with proper rules and proper 'moments' and a prompt, predictable, PROPER ending was assured. Something he could understand. Something that would yield him Kate (the first) and his freedom and Mozzie and maybe daiquiri's and definitely a happily-ever-after style beach.
"Neal, why are you on the floor?"
And there it went--his infant fairytale... Flown right out the window like Icarus determinedly soaring off to die. He hated Peter in that instant.
"What'd you say?" Peter asked kneeling down. And damned if he wasn't trying to drive a wedge between Neal and his new love--toiletKate--pulling him off the cool, smooth seat.
"I said I hate you," he slurred helpfully.
As reunions went, it was as painful as it was abrupt. Still, Neal's forehead was happy to be back with toiletKate. He eyed Peter's shoes from under his armpit, wondering if 'stink-eye' could magically turn them into decent Italian leather.
Several moments passed before Peter knelt down again, this time squirming to end up with his ass on the floor and his back against Neal's beloved porcelain girlfriend. At least Neal thought it was several moments--his brain was still operating in fairytale time, not real world time. And fairytale time tended to grant temporal contractions and dilations so that everything happened at just the right moments.
And he wasn't ever sure, these days, where Peter's actions fit into that ideal fantasy timeline. "Are you here for something in particular, or are you just going to generally cock up my life again?"
"Are you too drunk to understand my answer?" Peter countered smartly.
He was always smart, Peter. Too smart. Just like Neal himself. He'd show Peter Burke though. "For y'r infromation, I'm not only merely drunk, I'm really most sincerely drunk." Neal was sure the coroner of Munchkin City would forgive him.
Peter snickered. "You sure as hell are. Did you leave anything in June's cellar at all?"
"No," Truthfully though, Neal simply couldn't remember. "I was determined to get utterly Skullied."
"Skullied? That's a new one."
"Only over here." Neal felt fingers lightly brush a lock of his hair out of his eyes and he swatted the hand away. "Skullied, pie-eyed, wasted, pissed, hammered, sauced, loaded..."
"Neal, I get the point." Peter huffed.
And Neal was more than a little annoyed to hear the exasperation in his partner's voice. What right did Peter "I-wanna-skrew-you-in-the-ass" Burke have to be exasperated? "You're really a prick, you know that?" It wasn't what Neal wanted to say, it's just all that was available at the moment.
Then he heard Peter make a noise that sounded suspiciously like the tall man had sprung a leak. Neal suspected he was just sighing and then suddenly he was being awkwardly maneuvered away from his honeymoon with well-loved toiletKate, to end up trapped in something graceless that could only be Peter's vice-like version of a hug.
"I'm sorry Neal," Peter said into the top of his head.
Neal didn't know what to do with that. He couldn't recall that Peter had done anything to the top of his head that required an apology--so he just let Peter squeeze the life out of him slowly. It was warm and oddly comforting and Peter smelled amazing, just like always. Besides, it was better than trying to explain Kate II to Kate I anyway. Fairytale princesses never shared. Except on Cinemax at 3am in the morning.
"Why?" Neal asked at length, surprised how hoarse he sounded. He immediately cursed his mouth for working without his brain's permission. He had no idea what he was even inquiring about. Why had Peter come? Why had he and El changed the rules of their game? Why had Kate left?
Why wasn't he able to let it all go, like Peter wanted?
Peter shifted himself and Neal went along for the ride. The end result was one staunch--if ruffled--G-man looking Neal in the face for the first time since venturing into the fine art of B&E. Neal wasn't sure if it was smart, but he looked right back at both of the Peter's before him.
His partner must not've liked what he saw. "Shit, Neal. How much did you drink?"
Neal wanted to answer 'not enough', but suddenly the world was swinging violently around, and his feet were under him for an instant before they weren't all over again. Then somehow he was leaving the bathroom. Neal flopped off a mournful wave at toiletKate as he was carried away. Peter always got in the way of all his relationships.
The bed wasn't what he'd been expecting. But then after last night's now infamous dinner, maybe it should have been. Peering blearily up at Peter, he tried to intuit which constipated look he was witnessing. It wasn't the reluctantly amused one. But it wasn't the 'chew iron nails' look either. It was...sorta sad. "Wha's wrong, Pete?" It mattered to him, and Neal was suddenly annoyed with how damn much it mattered.
The bed dipped and a cool hand ran across his cheek and it was then that Neal realized he'd closed his eyes. He wondered if Peter had answered him and he'd missed it.
The cool hand remained though, stroking gently and it was such a comforting gesture that Neal was almost inclined to forgive Peter, to forget they were in his bed...to forget the heinously disturbing evening that had led to this current predicament. But then his stomach joined the revolt led by his mouth, and Neal had no choice but to curl onto his side. He batted away Peter's immediately searching touch.
That deplorable moan hadn't come from him....had it?
"Neal?" He didn't want to hear the concern in Peter's voice, he just wanted silence, so he didn't answer.
A moment later, Peter said something about returning soon. And before Neal could offer so much as a 'piss off', he was alone again. Typical. The only one Neal could depend on was toiletKate. Unlike Peter and El, she would never ask him to her bed while he was searching for princess Kate the 1st. And ToiletKate never made him ache for the real things he'd always had pretend into his fairytale with said Princess. Things Peter promised with his warm eyes and an easy smile...things El promised with her iron clad sensibili....sensibledness....sensi...
What the hell ever.
Neal lay there, dozing, counting the minutes until the alien in his stomach was to be born--until he was drawn out of his reverie by the return of cool, firm fingers...turning his face upwards... Gently forcing an eyelid open? A blurry, worried Peter hovered just outside of focus. "Peter? Why're you touchin' my eye?"
"Neal, listen to me. Did you take anything with the booze? Or did you just tie on one helluva toxic drunk?"
Neal wasn't sure if chasing Chambord with Grey Goose and then a healthy dose of Woodford Reserve counted(and then list got really expensive). But he'd just lie like a rug, just in case it did. "Noooooo...." he offered too emphatically. "Nothin' tha's against probation."
Another sigh and Neal was wondering if Peter really was leaking air somewhere. He almost giggled again at the idea, but then suddenly his shoulders were somewhat...up? At least he thought it was up. He wasn't so good with directions...Like north, and south, and...and 'there' and 'here'.
A strong arm slid behind his back. "Neal, I've got Gatorade and water. Lots of it. You're gonna drink it, every last bit of it."
"What 'bout coffee?" June had coffee that was just complete win.
"Wives tale, Neal. Coffee just makes you piss. You can piss later. Right now I need you to drink this."
"No pissing anymore, Pete. ToiletKate and I are in a relationsh'p now. And I don't pee on my g'rlfriends." At least he hoped toiletKate wasn't into that sort of thing.
Peter didn't quite abort a startled noise and Neal counted a scored point. Though for what, he wasn't sure.
The grip on his shoulders tightened and the thin, hard line of some bottle was introduced to Neal's lips. "Just shut up and Drink, Caffrey. Now."
It took a moment, but he managed a very respectable scowl. "F'ck off, Burke!" Peter wasn't the only one who could resort to last names. Neal followed it up with a healthy shove. There was cursing from above and Neal's ears were suddenly wet, along with his cheek. He didn't care. No one made him drink anything he didn't want to. He was perfectly capable of drinking all on his very own. He'd proved that this very night.
That didn't stop Peter. He just gripped tighter and Neal was wondering it he was really intending to crush him. "Drink, damnit!"
Neal was tired in general and tired specifically of Peter. He didn't have the stamina for a struggle so he finally complied. And it wasn't fun. Gatorade, he decided, was a wretched, wretched invention. It tasted remarkably like cherry flavored sweat and sat on his already unsteady stomach like lead ballast. But his government issue tormentor didn't let up until the bottle was empty.
It was official. Peter was a bastard.
"Yeah, well, bastard or not, I'm here," Peter said with quiet conviction. The bottle was gone and it was replaced with the hand again. The nice, soft, cool hand that Neal was growing to like so well--this time with a washcloth removing the sticky sport's drink from his face and ears. "You know...this was really stupid, Neal."
"S'rry." And Neal sort of was, considering the sad, worried sound in Peter's voice. He hated it that he'd do nearly anything to make that tone go away.
"Oh, I suspect later on you're gonna be more sorry than I could ever make you. For now though, you need to do what I say--for once. I've seen dead fish with better color."
Neal was confused. BastardPeter was being nicePeter, and could someone PLEASE medicate this man for the worst bipolar disorder in history! "You know...We're not having a moment," Neal insisted out of the blue, in his very best 'I-really-mean-it' voice.
"What?" Peter sounded confused now too. Which considering what he was doing to Neal's equilibrium, the thief considered it only fair.
"A 'moment'. You know..." Only by now, Neal knew the open silence was 'Peter-ish' (Peter-eese?) for "No Neal, I don't know". "Where've you been, in a barn? A 'moment'. Like in fairytales. Girl meets boy, then there's cherubs, small singing animals and wedding bells. But first they have 'moments'."
"I don't know what the hell you're going on about. Furthermore, I suspect neither do you. So shut up and drink, Neal. It's water this time." And Neal could smell that it was, so he parted his lips, despite his stomach sloshing about ominously.
Then Peter's voice did that thing it did, the thing that never failed to derail Neil's fairytale. Soft and quiet and more eloquent than a prayer...more binding than any promise. "We'll discuss whatever you're going on about when you're sober. IF you remember, that is."
Neal pushed the water away from his face. "Don't wanna be sober," he insisted tiredly. "Fairytales aren't sober things, Peter. And I want mine back. I went to prison for it, dammit." But there wasn't any heat to his words. Neal was too weary for that. Tired of everything being so hard, so complex, so drawn out and unresolved. "You and El are making it so hard not to be distracted." There was a plea in his tone and Neal didn't even care. He cocked an eye open and immediately wished he hadn't. The room spun sickly as Neal's stomach launched a determined invasion of Normandy.
He must have looked as bad as he felt because Peter slammed the water down and laid him back, quickly but gently. "Shit, can't you just cooperate for once. Now is not the time for this."
"I don't give a fuck!" Neal argued through clenched teeth. A few moments of panting breaths and things were calmer, if no less uncomfortable. But the booze-buried tide of emotions were rising to the top in a valiant effort not to be drown, and Neal finally had to acknowledge them. "I wanna know what you two were thinking! Damnit, You know what that did to me? You can't just... You can't just say things like that!"
"Neal... Look...about last night... I'm sorry. El and I... We didn't get to explain because you just ran off. We didn't mean to throw you for a loop. We love..." Peter stopped short and sighed again. And Neal was achingly glad he hadn't finished that statement. He couldn't hear that--not right now. Not from them. He sent out a silent prayer of thanks that Peter seemed to understand that.
"Neal..." Peter continued. "El and I aren't trying to take you from Kate."
"Yes you are. I was reading that you were...that you wanted... Shit! I knew it was coming! And then you said..."
"You were right." Peter interrupted with what Neal knew to be his 'irrefutable' tone. "You were reading just what you thought you were. Not just the words, but the whole thing. But...we wouldn't. Well, okay not unless you wanted to. And you obviously don't... Which is fine. But..." Peter gave up stammering and slid his hard hand behind Neal's head, gripping firmly. "Just don't do this again, huh you bonehead?"
Neal reached out unsteadily and patted at Peter's arm, missing by several inches. But the reassurance was earnest all the same, he hoped. "S'okay, Peter," Neal offered raggedly. "But I don't think I can talk about this yet."
"No, not until you're fully sober. But we do need to discuss it. Much as you don't want to, much as I hate this sort of thing, El's right. We can't leave it hanging. And this..." He gestured airily at Neal lying there. "This can't happen again." The waves of distress were nearly rolling off Peter and it was just too much for Neal to process.
It wasn't the right answer, he'd known that. But a man just had to sit down and drown his evening--every so often. It was the Sinatra way to do things. However, it was a sure bet ol' Blue eyes never had an FBI agent confess his attraction, even his affections, over dinner--in front of his wife. And for El to just sit there with a knowing smile, like she'd planned all of it all along... "I just--I can't, Peter." His throat was suddenly too tight, his chest starting to ache in that way all men hated. He would NOT break down in front of Peter Burke. His chest might explode holding it in--but goddamnit he was due some dignity! "Fuck!" Neal said, refusing to acknowledge the sob behind it.
Instantly he was drawn up into that almost too tight embrace again. "Sshhhh... Hey, it's okay, Neal. I'm sorry. El and I... If you want, we won't bring it up again. I promise."
And didn't that just make things even worse. Now he felt guilty for not giving in to his own messed up, distracting want for Peter. "Shut up!" he gasped, struggling to master himself. "You don't understand..."
"Then tell me." Peter insisted quietly. "What don't I understand, Neal?" No argument, no false assurances that he did, in fact, understand. Neal thought perhaps that was Peter in a nutshell. Never make excuses, never waste time caught up in delusion. Always be ready to cut through the crap. No wonder Peter had been the only one to catch him.
"We ARE having a moment." Neal offered quietly despairing. "And I'm... I'm just goddamn lost. So far off script I don't know what to do next." A quiet moan tore out of him, disappearing into his partner's chest and Neal let loose finally.
"Hey, hey... c'mon now." Peter stroked his head soothingly. He was, Neal noted absently, apparently no better with the whole crying thing when a man was involved.
"I'm not crying. Just so you know," Neal clarified, staunchly ignoring the irrefutable facts to the contrary. The wet cloth was pressed into his hand and the death grip on his shoulders lessened some.
"Yes, Neal, you are--Just a little. But it's okay. It happens sometimes when you've gotten this good and soused." It was the first attempt at negotiating the release of Neal's very wounded pride. And it wasn't' helped at all by his attempt at cleaning up--which must have seemed as farcical to Peter as it was to him, since the cloth was promptly taken away to be employed by a more steady hand.
"I'm less drunk than I was," Neal offered forth as a valiant, if thin ransom for the return of his self-esteem.
"And I can't tell you how scary that is," Peter countered matter-of-factly, though Neal could hear a hint of amused relief. Assurances aside, emotional outbursts(even manly ones) weren't Peter's thing. "You ready to drink the water now?"
"Do I have a choice?" Neal asked, immediately reassured by Peter's derisive snort.
"Sure. I'll just take you to the hospital and have them hook you to an IV for a few hours--keep an eye on you 'till I'm sure you don't have alcohol poisoning."
Neal cursed but drank the water, slowly.
It didn't take long though, and despite his stomach still line-dancing to Springtime for Hitler, Neal was just beginning to feel somewhat better. Peter laid him back, pausing thoughtfully before pulling his slacks off--barely garnering a growl from Neal. "I've got more stuff for you to take when you wake up. Get some rest. I'll be here when you're sobered up," Peter promised.
Neal muttered a 'thanks mom' when a blanket was carefully tucked around him.
"Asshole," Peter accused gently, but Neal could hear the smile in his voice--even as he drifted off to sleep. He didn't balk at the hesitant brush of lips at his temple, though that worried him too.
And just as he was almost out, a quiet whisper rustled against his ear. "We did too have a moment. But I'm not much on the whole fairytale scene. They're way too formulaic. You've never been predictable, Neal Cafferey--not a moment in all the time I've known you. we'll work this out."
Neal was carried off to sleep by the idea that maybe it was time to throw out the script. If not, then maybe he could switch the roles around just this once.