Happy Halloween aside, this is not a themed!fic. I would've looooved to write one but I am neck deep in schoolwork and this was just conveniently finished on time. I don't own, please don't expect much ;D
it's a Three-sided Circle
I. Side A
He's a mark, this is a sting, and that contraption around his ankle is nothing more than an additional challenge to keep this game interesting.
A song keeping his footsteps soft, music to distract from the way he can't really look at him without wanting. In Neal's eyes, he can't afford to think otherwise, even though he has thought of all the in between, it's a conceptual thing, an artist's intuition. No, he can't. He really can't afford to risk his heart twice, and it's easy to play pretend—
(he swears, he loves Kate after all.)
"Take me home."
Except it hurts to know that he is waiting when he should have been running instead.
He is sitting at the edge of a hospital bed, white sheets and gauze on top of minor scraps and burns. The smell of fire in his hair, the smell of antiseptic in the air, he repeats himself.
"Take me home, Peter."
And he knows Peter finds something in him, something he hates, something he wants to soothe away. It is in the hand he doesn't raise to brush back his bangs, it is in his tense stance like Neal will run towards a bomb being set off, all over again. (He promises, he won't.)
"…Should I be leaving you alone?"
"I'm not going to do anything stupid."
His voice is steady, resigned, his smile soft and just the right amount of vulnerable when he looks up. And still, he has his trilby covering the worst of the tremors, hiding the one weakness he can't afford to show off. Not that it isn't obvious, Peter has always been better than decent at speaking Conman-Caffrey.
He looks away from Peter, standing almost protective in front of him, to the white of the hospital walls. And his ears seem to ring, explosions aside, side effects abandoned at the door, Neal can't stand that he wants Peter to care.
Can't stand that Peter does even if he won't ever ask.
"Will you be okay?"
"…No." Neal also hates that he can't seem to stop telling the truth. "Kate's gone."
And he hasn't cried since a long long time, so when Peter's thumb comes away from the ridge of his cheekbones wet, he nearly goes hysteric in his arms.
II. Side B
He's a tool, this is a job, and that anklet secured on his left foot keeps him responsible for all that he is and all that he will become.
He wants to be the one to change his mind, turn a good man down a better road than a life of crime that has him constantly looking over his shoulder. Or that's what he pretends he is trying to do. (And not keep Neal all to himself, shackle not withstanding.) From Peter's perspective, Neal is simply batting for the other team, if only to add another dozen tricks to the inside of his sleeves.
"Neal planned this whole thing."
And he knows he sounds irrational but there is no doubt. He has seen it all with Neal Caffrey, the man can have his cake and eat it too, all the while licking his lips slick with a hot red swipe of that tongue.
It is like that with the Nazi loot, it is like this with Ellen's death.
He glances over to Elizabeth, sees her looking at him beneath her lashes. And she doesn't brush off his statement as paranoia or well-trained suspicion that comes with being Caffrey's handler. She only curls up closer in his arms, leans her head against his shoulder and says.
"So you're an accomplice."
"What? No, El! I didn't kno—" He stops himself before he can finish his own sentence, words dropping off even as they leave his mouth and Peter can only sit still, stunned with Elizabeth in his arms.
He remembers passing Neal the drive, he remembers the phone call Neal makes the moment after the exchange, Abigail's confession of blackmail, Neal telling her no and the relief that floods through him when he comes clean, just like that.
Like a chameleon flickering against a background of colors (like a snake shedding its skin in the winter cold. Peter can't forget the hot warmth of Neal's tears on the pads of his hands, wet lashes against his cheeks.)
And he thinks he doesn't know who Neal Caffrey is when he is only starting to recognize who Peter Burke is becoming. There is no objection, he wants to keep his guard up but in the face of Neal's half smile when he does him a certain right, it comes down nonetheless.
Like an unstable tower, music in the air.
El smiles and shakes her head, "I like it, bring him home for dinner sometimes."
III. the Flip Side of the Vinyl Record is spinning on its side
They're her boys with their hearts bared out in the open, anklet the only thing that is keeping them from pulling the other in even closer than they are already pressed up against each other. And for an experienced Federal agent with years of fieldwork and the best conman White Collar crimes have ever seen, they are both awfully bad at pulling this one over anyone's brushing curiosity.
From where El sees it, it is tempting, to see that both parties involved are just as in over their heads, scrambling to make sense of a situation that is almost, not just yet, out of this world.
She watches him sip, throat pale in the light of her dinning room. And for her, it has always been now or never. His anklet isn't coming off any time soon and Peter won't be the one to bring this up.
Elizabeth lets Neal put down the wine glass before saying, stating.
"You like my husband."
She likes the way his eyes widen, blue eyes startling into something bright, like this is the first time anyone has caught him red handed in a half-assed heist he hasn't really thought through.
And for once, she believes she has.
No wonder, Peter loves the chase, it is a delightful thrill.
She puts a hand over his, catches the sight of wine stained lips, and wonders what it feels to kiss him. Instead, she tells him a revelation he hasn't been willing to believe in for the longest time.
"He likes you too."
"…And you are okay with that?" She can see he is cautious, almost weary and call it intuition, El knows unrequited love tends to do it.
"It's not a competition."
"But if it was?"
"I would win." Elizabeth smiles as Peter walks back in, hands empty of the dishes he has been clearing, quirking his head at the two of them like he knows there may be planning in the process.
Neal glances over at Peter, withdraws his hand from beneath hers and smiles something sly, like a fox. She likes that too. And when he replies, he ducks his head a little and it's soft.
"Of course, you would."
She doesn't point out that it's okay, not even when Peter is pulling Neal into their living room, hand at the small of his back. She only stands at the threshold and watches as the two of them lean in, eyes intent on a single case file lying spread out between them.
Peter at his most relaxed, Neal too at the way they are pressed, shoulder to hips, sharing a smile at a breakthrough that is nearly at their fingertips.
No, they have to figure that one out on their own.
(And the music, it has no intention of stopping.)
I don't know why but I never think I can do this OT3 justice, so, more pre-OT3 feels for now? ;)