Title: His Plumage Shining White
Genre and/or Pairing: Neal/Peter UST, Elizabeth Burke POV
Notes: Sequel to Swan /works/44832
Haiti donation story for Sonia
Spoilers: Up to Bad Judgment
Word Count: 2862
Summary: After the events of Swan, Neal wants to tell Peter how he feels but things keep getting in his way. This story must be read after Swan or it does not make sense
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners including Jeff Eastin and USA television. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Huddled on her couch, El watched the coverage of the prison riot. This was the part of her life with Peter that she hated. If she ever left Peter, it would be because she could not handle the idea of the time she would hear that his strong spirit had gone to investigate the mysteries beyond the scope of the FBI.
Peter's boss and friend, Hughes, had come in person to tell her that Peter was caught in the riot and was supposed to be one of the hostages. Neal was an afterthought, less than one. Hughes only confirmed that Neal was also inside when El asked. Peter's boss had said, "Ms. Burke, we have no way of telling what role Mr. Caffrey is playing. He could be siding with the convicts."
Standing up, furious, El's voice had crackled as she said, "He is not. He is with Peter, using whatever resources he can find to help him. You don't know Neal, Mr. Hughes. That's obvious."
Hughes wore that worried look he frequently had when dealing with Peter. He made some polite noises, asked El if there was anything he could do. Did she want someone to come and stay with her.
El said, "I want you to get Peter's team in there so they can get him out. I want Peter and Neal back safely. I want you to make sure that Neal isn't separated from Peter when they are rescued. It would make Peter worry if Neal isn't with him."
"Yes, Elizabeth," Hughes had said and exited, shaking his head. One thing Neal really didn't understand. Peter was not Hughes' by the book agent. He worried his boss to no end, but he was Hughes' favorite for myriad reasons. Neal was the one that glittered, but Peter's charm took time to sink in.
People liked Peter as well as they liked Neal. Peter sometimes played a role just as Neal did; Peter played himself as an all-American boy, full of enthusiasm and aw-shucks wonder. His facade of the man in the ill fitting suit clouded people to the sharp, creative, fire of his mind. The loose cut of the cloth covered Peter's wonderful body, that El wished she was touching right now.
El had fallen for Peter not so much for his looks, which she loved, but for what she saw beneath. She had fallen for him when she realized that he had burned for her not so much when he saw her, but when he spoke to her. When Peter realized she was as bright as he was and as strong-willed if not so more so, that was when he loved her. El fell in love with the man who thought her mind and spirit was beautiful.
Back to the TV, hating the way the news consultants analyzed the risks to the hostages, El wished there was something she could do. She had fantasies of going in like a female ninja and spiriting her husband and her friend to safety. She was glad no one had slipped the news that an FBI agent was also a hostage. That meant there was some chance that Neal could lie his way to some sort of safety with Peter.
Watching and waiting was not El's preferred role. No fool and no weak protected woman, Elizabeth knew what that could mean. Peter and El watched the coverage of last years prison riots in California. Even worse were the riots in Lucasville, Ohio where guards were captured and held; that had occurred in 1993 seventeen years ago before El met Peter, but there was Lucy whose father was a guard. She had spent days comforting her terrified friend and cried with her when she found out her father was safe. She was well aware that her husband's chances were not good. Neal's were possibly worse given that his situation with Peter made him a reviled snitch.
In the middle of her thoughts, El's phone rang. It was dear Jones...no one called him Clinton except his older family members... who said that the hostages were free. Peter was not in danger but injured. Neal had been beaten and might have some broken ribs, but he was also not in serious condition. Both were on their way to the hospital. They were together and would be kept together. Jones was following the ambulance, but Hannah Chisom was on her way to get El.
Hannah Chisom was next to Jones the most senior member of Peter's team. She was steadfast, calm, and endured Peter's temperament almost as well as Jones. For the longest time, El didn't even know her name. She finally asked, "Peter, who is the woman who wears her hair pulled back in a pony tail. She has a long face and an olive complexion."
"That's Hannah Chisom. She's almost as good at research as Jones," Peter said.
"How long has she worked with you?" Elizabeth had asked.
"Three or four years," Peter said.
"And all this time, you never introduced her?" El said.
"No, why?" Peter said.
El could have hit him, but Peter could be so oblivious when it came to social matters not concerned with a case.
Waiting on front stairs, El was ready to go, Peter's overnight bag in her hand. She had nothing for Neal, but had called the private phone number for Moz...the one she swore she would not give to Peter. Moz would pack a similar bag for Neal so he would be more comfortable at the hospital and so he could leave in Neal style.
According to Peter, Hannah had one vice. She drove like the Tasmanian Devil. Today her peccadillo was greatly appreciated.
"Did you see them?" El asked.
"No, Ma'am, I was in the office. Jones took the lead in the field. He's senior on the team," Hannah said.
"You don't have to call me, Ma'am," El said. She hated being called Ma'am. Ma'am was her maiden aunt, Sally, the lawyer. Although, Elizabeth wasn't so sure Sally was so much maiden as she was lesbian, given her long-term residence with her best friend, Shelby. Mother just couldn't handle the concept, poor thing so always referred to Sally as El's maiden aunt.
"Yes, Ma...Elizabeth," Hannah said.
Peter was just going into surgery when El arrived. She had time to kiss him and quickly clasp his hand before they wheeled him away. She located Neal in a treatment room, looking abandoned and pathetic. His face was untouched, but when the sheet fell away, El caught her breath. His chest as far as she could see was black and blue. His foot was outside the blanket, the tracker looking like another bruise to El. She gently moved Neal's foot back on the examination bed and covered it.
"How's Peter?' Neal asked.
"He's just gone into surgery," El replied.
"They said he would be fine," Neal said. He sounded as if he meant to reassure El, but his voice quavered.
"What happened?" El asked.
"It was nothing I did," Neal immediately said.
See there it was! Neal's first assumption when something went wrong was that it would be blamed on him. El said, "I know that, sweetheart. I just wanted to know more. All I know is what I've seen on TV. Hughes wouldn't tell me anything."
"We went into supermax to interview Tulane," Neal said. "Peter was using his magic tricks on him, but nothing was working. Tulane was frightened of something, Fowler, I think. We heard a lot of noise and then this prisoner was struggling with the guard. He shot Peter. I got Peter inside the interrogation room. Finally, I saw a guy I did time with and he put us in the library with the other hostages. He did a good thing, not pointing out that Peter was a Fed."
"How did you get hurt?" El asked.
"Some Hell's Angels figured out who Peter was and were going to beat him up," Neal said. "He was already wounded. I couldn't let that happen so I protected him."
"How?' El said.
"I just got between him and the men," Neal said. "I was protecting my investment, my freedom so don't make a big deal out of it."
El shook her head. She said, "Neal, don't try to be a tough guy. I like you the way you are." She gathered his beautiful artist's hand and kissed the delicate fingers. She knew he was strong and capable, but he wasn't a violent man. He hated violence.
A nurse came in and said, "They can take you in X-rays now."
"X Rays? Why?"
"He probably has some broken ribs," the nurse said.
"Neal!" El said.
"I'm fine, I'm fine, don't worry," Neal said as they wheeled him away.
Jones was in the waiting room with Hannah. He stood up, taking El's hand immediately. "They'll be all right.'
"How was Neal hurt?" El asked, not satisfied with Neal's explanation.
"From what I heard from the other hostages, Neal put his body right over Peter. He wouldn't let the cons pull him away and it became a gauntlet for him. They kept beating him and kicking him to see what it would take to have him move away," Jones said. "He never moved. Took everything for Peter."
"Oh," El said. "Oh, Neal..."
"Yeah, they said it was the bravest thing they ever saw," Jones said. "Of course, since no one else tried to help, there wasn't much contrast in that room."
Elizabeth sat with Jones and tried to be as strong as her husband. She could not get the image out of her head of Neal's body arched over Peter's, protecting him at such great cost.
It could have been friendship but she thought it was more. She had been amused at the signs she saw of Neal being attracted to Peter. Now it was no longer funny. Now it had saved Peter's life.
Two cups of coffee later and a long chat with a student nurse about her internship, El was finally allowed to see both of her men. They shared a room. Peter was briefly awake, smiled at her, and said something about not letting Neal eat his cereal. He was stoned out of his mind.
Neal was wide awake and miserable. He lay in his bed, his arm thin against the pillow, the plastic bracelet with his identification inelegant against his pale skin. His tracker was green because it was now programmed for the vicinity of the hospital. El went over Peter's clothing, wincing at the bloody shirt and jacket. Neither of them was salvageable. She automatically went through his pockets, removing the memos, the pens, and the other odds and ends with which her husband filled his pockets. She found a folded note and noticed her name.
If you are reading this, I am gone and, with me, Neal. He is with me here, trying to protect me and comfort me. I tell you that so you know I was never alone and that we had each other to worry about, lessening the fear for ourselves.
My thoughts are with you, on ten lovely years of our marriage. You have always been my wonder. I still think it is a miracle that you said yes when I asked you to be my wife. You are the center of my life even if I sometimes forget that for work. You keep me on track. You support me when I flounder and gently humble me when my head swells. You are the heart of me and, I know if I ever look for truth, all I have to do is look in your eyes.
I want to say, El, if something happens to me, don't be alone. You are too much of a treasure to spend your future as a widow.
If there is a heaven, I will wait for you there.
Love, if Neal and I don't make it out of here, please bury him next to me so we can keep each other company and so you can visit us together. Neal says that these last few months are some of the happiest days of his life and that your warmth, your willingness to make him a part of our family means so much to him.
Neal says to kiss Satchmo for him and to pet Moz for him.
You are my love, El.
Your husband, Peter."
El held the letter to her heart and now she cried, silently, but her fear and her relief shaking her.
"El, are you all right?" Neal asked.
Since Peter was still asleep, El went to Neal, sat on his bed, so very gently rested her forehead against his chest, and cried it out with his hands stroking her hair.
"I could have lost him," El said when her soft gasps let her speak.
"You didn't," Neal said.
"Thanks to you," El said. "Thanks to you."
"I did it for myself," Neal replied. "You know. My keeper. Who would take me on if something happened to Peter. No big deal."
"Stop it," El said. "No, Neal, you don't get to do this."
At Neal's frightened expression, El softened her voice. She petted his face and said, "You did it because you love him as much as I do."
"And you would never hurt me," El said. "You are such a gentleman, such a lover."
"I would as soon as die as hurt you," Neal said, blue eyes, so like her own, soft as hers in this moment.
"Just as Peter would," El said. "My heart is safe with both of you."
Gathering Neal's hand in her own, El explored them, the length of the fingers, the smoothness of his palm, the odd little scars and here and there, the mark of whatever arcane adventures he had found in his strange life. She folded Neal's hands closed. "You hold Peter's heart just like that."
"Peter loves you. He has a great big heart, a guarded one, but when he gives it to you, oh, Neal, it's worth the world," El said. She closed her eyes, taking her hand away as she hugged her herself. "He's stubborn, he drinks too much beer, and he still plays basketball with the guys every chance he gets. He'll watch sports during dinner if I let him...I don't. He's also wise and warm. Brave and adorable. He loves with his entire being...he's...oh, he makes love like no one else, Neal."
El opened her eyes to see Neal's lips pink and moist, his eyes wide. If she doubted, his expression said it all.
"I wouldn't think I would ever share him," El said. "But you were willing to give your life to save his. I owe you..."
"I didn't do it for a price," Neal protested.
"I know," El said. "Do you believe I know right from wrong?"
"Of course," Neal replied. "Not like Peter tries to know. He wants to follow the law. Sometimes though, he can't stand it and he bends a little."
"And I don't care what it says in those musty law books," El said. "I know right and wrong here." She put her hand over her heart. "My heart tells me that's there's something about you and Peter that is meant to be just as there is between Peter and me."
"How?" Neal started. All his charming words failed him. He said, "I don't even know if he really wants me that way."
El laughed. She said, "Did he tell you he did?"
"Well, yes," Neal said, "But it was under duress. We didn't know we would make it out."
"So he had every reason to speak the truth, Neal," El replied.
The sudden pallor could have been Neal's injuries, but El didn't think so. She gave Neal her hand again. He held on tight. She didn't ask him about Kate. She understood- even if Peter would struggle with the idea. Neal was like Peter. He loved with his entire heart. He could not take it back even if the person to whom he gave it broke it. At the least, Neal needed to make sure that Kate was safe, that if she wanted to leave him, it was of her own will.
"El?" Neal said.
"Yes, love," El replied.
"Thank-you for trusting me," Neal said.
"I always did," El said.