A/N: I've added another chapter; a fic I wrote in one sitting, pretty much as the idea occured to me. I don't know if this is complete yet, but I'll mark it as 'complete' anyway. Hope you enjoy it.
This has not been beta'd. This is AU from the pilot onwards.
Chapter 4: Italian
"Are you ready to order?" The waitress had returned. She held a pen and pad at the ready.
Peter looked at Neal who had a look as if to say, he would if Peter would. Peter decided to bestow some mercy on Caffrey today, so he looked apologetically back at the waitress.
"Actually ..." Peter stood, pushing the chair back. "... I just received an urgent phone call."
Neal nodded and winked at the waitress. "Yeah, he got a call—important. Really can't wait."
Peter seized his overcoat as Neal stood smoothly and thanked the waitress for her lovely service. Being the nice guy that he was, he left a generous tip for someone who had said but three things to them.
Neal followed Peter out of the restaurant. Peter couldn't help but scowl at the way Neal was able to make everything he did look clumsy by comparison. While he mumbled apologies to a passing waitress that forced him to sidestep past, Neal would smile and somehow turn his ducking and weaving into a flirtation. Typical Neal! He could make everything seem like a move right out of a Tango.
Once they had exited the restaurant, Peter turned to Neal and gave a nod. "I'm heading back to the office- any chance you want to save me some effort and come with me to confess?"
Neal feigned disappointment. "Aw, but Peter, what about lunch?"
Peter frowned, confused and gestured to the restaurant. "I thought we decided to pass on that?"
Neal shook his head. "You chose that place Peter, my turn; I know this wonderful place that does an impressive—"
Both men turned their heads in the direction of the new voice.
Peter cracked a genuine smile as he recognized the owner of the voice. "El!"
Neal looked carefully at the crowd surging around them on the sidewalk and eventually he saw who it was Peter was smiling at.
The woman looked stunning. She was wearing a designer suit; a black skirt, black stockings with a lovely pale blue and white blouse that showed of her hourglass frame beneath a sensible black suit jacket. Her hair was long, dark and wavy, held up at the sides with neatly hidden clasps. As she neared, trailed by another woman, Neal could see the vibrant shade of blue in her eyes, but she was yet to turn them on him.
"Peter," El repeated, "I thought you were at work."
Peter nodded. "I took an early lunch. El, hon, this is—"
"Mike!" Neal extended a hand. "Mike West. You must be Peter's lovely wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Burke!"
Elizabeth nodded smiling. She didn't seem to notice Peter's exasperated eye-roll.
"I am," Elizabeth replied, extending a hand, "It's a pleasure to meet an acquaintance of Peter's. How do you two know each other?"
Peter took a deep breath and counted to ten
Neal, on the other hand, was in his element. Still grinning broadly, he gave a casual wave. "Oh, I've consulted on a few of his cases for the FBI."
"Oh." El seemed impressed. "How is that going?"
Neal gave a small shrug. "Oh, you know how it is. I'm sure Peter talks about it all the time. Some you catch …" Neal glanced at Peter and smirked. "… and some you don't."
El nodded with sympathy. "Maybe you can help Peter with the Caffrey case."
Neal frowned, a perfect image of vague interest. "The Caffrey case? I don't believe Peter has told me about that one…."
El gave a look of confusion. "I'm surprised; it's all Peter talks about at home."
Neal arched his eyebrow in Peter's direction and Peter looked away and shrugged before mumbling.
Neal looked back at Elizabeth. "Is that so?"
El smiled. "Have you boys had lunch yet? I was about to go for mine."
Neal raised his eyebrows with interest. "May I recommend the place?"
Elizabeth nodded eagerly. "Hang on a sec."
Neal looked at Peter while Elizabeth gave Yvonne the to-do-list for the event that evening. Peter shook his head slowly in Neal's direction but didn't seem interested in protesting. Neal grinned delighted; it looked as if for now, Peter would allow him to have his fun. He was kind of surprised actually, that Peter wasn't correcting Neal on his lie and saving his wife from being conned. Neal knew it was only a matter of time before he spilt the beans, so to speak. Neal would take advantage as long as he could in the meantime.
"So, Mike." Elizabeth turned back to Neal after seeing off Yvonne. "What place do you recommend?"
"It's this wonderful new place that does an impressive array of Italian cuisines. They only just—"
"You're not talking about Auditoré's, are you?" Elizabeth interjected excitedly, "I love that place!"
Neal's eyes sparkled with delight. "Yes! You've been there?"
Elizabeth nodded. She and Neal started walking, already perfectly in-step with one another.
Peter wandered along behind them, bored. And apparently, forgotten.
Elizabeth was talking again, "—but I finally managed to snag one of their chefs. People invited to the gallery are still asking me for the catering details."
Auditoré's was about two blocks over. Peter grumbled to himself about having to go back for the car after lunch. Then he grumbled about how well his wife was getting on with a notorious thief.
He couldn't grumble about the restaurant though. It was impressive. He also couldn't grumble about the compulsory bookings either. They bypassed them completely.
He couldn't work out if it was his wife's or his quarry's influence that allowed them past the booking process and into an almost private alcove.
Once they had settled in the seats, Neal sighed, content and leant forward eagerly. "So, tell me about this Caffrey case."
Elizabeth looked at Peter, but when Peter stared blankly back, she took a breath. "Well, Neal Caffrey is a pain in Peter's butt."
Neal smiled. "Really, he sounds successful…?"
Elizabeth shrugged. "He's a suspect on a lot of Peter's cases, but I wouldn't call him successful."
Neal frowned. "Oh? What would you call him?"
Elizabeth paused and put her chin on her hands, contemplating. Then she spoke with the air of finality, "egotistical."
Neal stared. Egotistical?
Neal fought to convey indifference. "Egotistical? Really?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Definitely, he's selfish, vain and overconfident: egotistical. Overconfidence will get him caught."
Wait— what? Neal inwardly shook his head in disbelief.
He could understand how an agent's wife might think he was over-confident.
It wasn't over-confidence. He was merely playing the game; to charm people, you had to be confident.
But, vain? Selfish? No, wait- to be fair, he could understand why El would think he was selfish, but vain? Where had that come from?
Okay, he lamented as he self-consciously checked his appearance; maybe calling him vain was fair too.
"He's not as smart as he thinks," Elizabeth added, "he can be naive."
Whoa-oa! Not as smart as he thinks?
Peter was leaning back against the padded backing of the alcove bench, smiling. He liked the way this conversation was going. He could see the confusion and dismay on Neal's face instead of a patented Neal Caffrey façade. His wife continued, seemingly unaware of Neal's—Mike's— gob smacked expression.
"Peter will get him." El nodded convinced. "It won't even be that hard— Peter has been kind of holding back."
Neal blinked. Now, wait a minute!
What kind of an impression was he giving Elizabeth? That didn't sound right. There had to be a mistake.
"We're talking about Neal Caffrey, right?" Neal confirmed, trying to keep the strain out of his voice.
Elizabeth nodded. "Oh, I mean, he seems to be an okay guy, but he is walking free on borrowed time. He just doesn't know it. If he were really smart, he'd take Peter up on one of the offers to confess that he's always giving him."
El leant over to rub Peter's shoulder affectionately. "Neal's lucky, really; any other agent chasing him would have shot him by now."
"Excuse me," Neal suddenly announced, "I have to visit the men's room."
El gave Mike a smile and spoke as he passed, "we'll order you a coffee?"
"Yes please," Neal managed to respond smoothly.
Peter and El watched as their lunch companion disappeared into the bathroom then Peter leant forward and gave El's hand an affectionate rub. "Have I told you how much I love you today, hon?"
El smiled, pleased at the delighted grin adorning her husband's features and moved to snuggle up against Peter's side.
While Peter put an arm around her, she murmured softly, "so how much more fun do you think I can have with Neal?"