sam_storyteller: (White Collar)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2010-08-12 10:30 am

Exquisite, Ch. 1

Title: Exquisite
Fandom: White Collar
Rating: NC-17 for language, sexual content. (Peter/Neal/El)
Warnings: Brief mentions of child abuse.
Summary: There's a place in Neal Caffrey's head where he doesn't have to lie to himself or be three steps ahead of the other guy, but so far only Peter has found it -- and Peter won't give him what he really wants. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is slowly adjusting to the idea of abetting felons...
Beta credit, JESUS: [personal profile] hija_paloma made me write it, [profile] neifile7 made me tighten it, [personal profile] 51stcenturyfox kept the marriage happy, [personal profile] spiderine fixed my italics (again), [personal profile] tzikeh made me accurate, and [profile] kalichan and [personal profile] rm made me want to write more.
Notes: This story basically follows S1 with a twist. I've lifted a few scenes from actual show dialogue, occasionally altering it, and I've also mildly changed a few of the show's timelines to either make them make more sense or fit them into the story. It's probably best to think of this as an extremely mild AU.

Originally Posted 8.12.10

Also available at AO3.

***

Three years is a long time.

Three years is a long term relationship. Three years is around the time that your parents start asking when you're going to get married. Or, if they're liberal, when you're going to have kids.

Three years is the time from gestation to talking, if you have a kid.

It was a long time to flirt with Neal Caffrey.

Peter knew it for what it was, even as he was chasing Caffrey, stalking him, learning him. It was a flirtation; there was just no other word that fit so well. Caffrey knew it too, though he might have found a better term for it. He definitely knew that Peter Burke was out to get him, and Peter was smart, and Caffrey liked smart. When he almost caught Caffrey in the Library of Congress, he thought the guy might lie low for a while, but that wasn't Caffrey's style.

Instead, he started leaving puzzles.

Not clues as to where he was or where he'd hit next; that wasn't his style either and was all a little "IN A DEADLY GAME OF CAT AND MOUSE" for either one of them. Just puzzles that would explain how precisely he did it. A bundle of papers showing where he'd got that car or this coat or the ink and paper to do the forging. An easel and a set of paints and the oven, still on, still warm like it was keeping Peter's dinner, set at 125. His annotated road map of routes to a bank. Some book binding tools. That kind of thing.

Peter loved the puzzles. They'd box them up and take them back to his office and he'd sit there for hours figuring out precisely what Caffrey did to get away with ten, fifteen, twenty grand, with a priceless sculpture or a handful of antique trinkets. He couldn't prove any of it actually was Caffrey, but he and Caffrey knew, and that was what counted.

It was soothing. No running, no sideways cynical thinking, just...assembling. Then he'd sit back when he was done and find himself smiling. What a clever boy you are, Neal Caffrey. And he'd go home and tell El all about what Caffrey had done this time.

"Sometimes I think you're proud of him," she said once, curled against him on the couch, feet tucked up, sharing a bottle of wine after a long day.

"Proud!" he snorted. "I want to catch the bastard, El."

"Yeaaaah, but..." she said.

"But?"

"I think you like playing with him, too."

He considered, for a minute, taking offense to the idea that he was doing less than his best to catch Neal Caffrey. He was doing his best. He was confident he would catch him. But it was an awful lot of energy to expend, being offended at one's wife, and she kind of had a point. Besides, she knew he could work hard and still enjoy the chase.

"I like playing with you more," he said, and she laughed and kissed him, and then Caffrey was the last thing on his mind.

Okay, maybe second-to-last. In those days, Caffrey was never actually gone entirely.

Perhaps things would have been different, in the end, if one of Caffrey's puzzles had led Peter to him. The puzzles might, in fact, have been insurance: if you catch me, G-man, it's because I let you. Peter might have been just a hint less confident in his dealings with Caffrey if he knew it wasn't entirely his own efforts that brought Caffrey down. But when they finally tripped him up, when Peter finally had the pleasure of standing in a room with his -- prey, playmate, puzzle-maker -- and capturing him, he could glory in the thrill of a clean win. Neal hadn't even made a mistake. Peter had just been too fast for him.

That was where the game ended: in a windowless room, with a handful of cops at the door, Peter with his gun and Caffrey with his hands upraised, blue eyes wide and...

Very young. That was what Peter remembered thinking. God, he looked so young, so surprised, so lost.

"Keep 'em up," he said.

"Okay," Caffrey said quietly.

"You armed?"

Caffrey gave a small, an infinitesimal shake of his head. "I don't like guns."

Peter hesitated. Then he lowered his gun just a fraction, and tilted his head. "You don't carry a gun because you don't like guns?"

The other man smiled a little. "Agent Burke, I thought you knew everything about me."

"What kind of moron doesn't carry a gun in your line of work?" Peter demanded.

"Seriously? You finally got me and that's what you want to know?" Caffrey asked.

"It's a start," Peter told him.

"Look, I allegedly -- allegedly forge things," Caffrey said. "There's not a lot of call for firearms in that business."

"You are so fucking lucky I caught you before you got shot," Peter told him, and gave a sharp whistle. Cops poured into the room. "Stay right there."

Caffrey didn't move as Peter came forward, which was oddly gratifying. He didn't even lower his arms until Peter grasped one of his wrists and pulled it down behind him.

"Come on, Agent Burke, I get cramps when you do it from behind," Caffrey said.

"Oh, funny man," Peter muttered, wrapping a secure-lock ziptie around his wrist. Handcuffs had not traditionally proven effective on Caffrey, as half a dozen podunk midwestern police officers had found out on various occasions. The only way to get out of the special-issue zipties was to cut them.

"I do my best," Caffrey replied. Peter slid a second tie through the first and closed it around his other wrist. Caffrey twitched his hands experimentally. "Soooo, how's the wife?"

"Fine," Peter answered without missing a beat. "I'm taking her out to dinner tonight."

"Oh? Celebrating?"

"Something like that," Peter agreed.

"I thought you'd be wearing a nicer suit."

Peter felt a little insulted. It was a good hardwearing suit. El had picked it out for him. "Yeah, well, civil servant," he retorted.

"How'd you do it?" Caffrey asked, turning slightly. Peter caught him by one arm, then slowly let him turn. "How'd you know where to find me?"

Peter grinned. "You figure it out. You'll have a lot of time to think about it. Neal Caffrey, you are under arrest for felony fraud. You have the right to remain silent..."

That had been a sweet day. Granted, they hadn't caught his accomplices, or at least -- well, they hadn't caught one of them, and they couldn't pin anything on Caffrey's girlfriend, not for lack of trying. Victory was untainted, however, and the evidence was solid. Even the mid-range lawyer Caffrey hired to defend him couldn't crack their case, and Peter Burke put Neal Caffrey away for four years.

Well, sometimes you took your victories where you could get 'em. He'd have parole afterwards, anyway, and that'd make him easy (easier) to track.

But once in a while...especially a few days before his birthday, when Neal Caffrey sent him a damn birthday card, Peter would lie in bed and wonder. His conclusions for three years were, oddly, the same: Caffrey would get out, Caffrey would get away, and Caffrey would start again.

And then he'd get to chase him again.

"Do they bother you?" El asked him, the third year he got a birthday card from Caffrey. He'd been sitting at his desk, holding it, absently running his thumb along the edge. "The cards?"

"They should," he said. "But I don't think he means to taunt me."

"Then what do you think he means?"

Peter shrugged. "He's probably bored. It's something to do."

"Are you bored?"

Peter looked up sharply. "What?"

El smiled at him. "Are you bored? This latest case..."

It had been a heroin ring being run out of a private high school; not really in his line, but he had some expertise in the area of wealthy kids who got up to bullshit.

"It's good work," El said. "But none of those kids are Neal Caffrey."

"So few are," he said, more to himself than to her.

Still, there had been prey before Caffrey, and there were plenty of crooks to chase after he caught him, too. As long as he had someone to run after, preferably someone smart, he'd be okay.

As diversions went, his on-again-off-again with the Dutchman wasn't a bad challenge. But when he got the news, when Diana came up to him with the so-serious look and said Neal Caffrey had escaped, oh boy. His blood picked up and his senses sang.

And Neal had left him a puzzle. Right in his jail cell, he left him a tape deck, a wall of scoremarks, a book, a pamphlet -- and on the prison cameras he left him a lot of video to watch.

It was like Christmas.

Okay, maybe that was the wrong way to think. It was obviously a Very Bad Thing that Neal got out and he was going to do his best, darn it all, to catch that wicked, wicked criminal again. Just, you know, he was going to enjoy himself as he did it.

The Bureau loved a man who loved his work.

Later, when they were working together, he liked to razz Neal sometimes about how he was the guy who caught Neal Caffrey twice, but really the second time was kind of a hollow victory. Neal's heart wasn't in it. He just sort of sat around and waited for Peter to show up. Neal wasn't surprised, and the lost look on his face wasn't because of Peter. Peter felt somewhat peripheral to the whole thing.

At least, until Neal reached out and plucked something off Peter's shoulder (the same suit, damn, that was some kind of synchronicity) and Peter's world tipped sideways.

He spent one long night considering Neal's offer, even after he'd said no. El had some words on the subject, and Peter could hear what his colleagues and boss would say without having to ask. But the opportunity to study Neal was sort of irresistible (he'd resisted it for precisely that reason, at first) and if Neal was playing an angle he wanted to see how it would work itself out.

He could always catch him again.

Peter knew Neal. He'd read the reports from the prison -- how Neal had pushed up against every single constraint, methodically, until he knew what the exact bounds of his new home were, and then he had become a model prisoner. He knew a little bit about the way Neal seemed to try to deliberately break a new law with every confidence game and con job. He knew about the boot camp for junior hoodlums when Neal was fifteen, with the same pattern of testing and pushing -- and whoa boy, boot camp could not hold fifteen-year-old Neal Caffrey.

He knew, too, about the hospital records from when Neal was ten. (Eight.) (Five.)

So he shouldn't have been as surprised as he was to find that he knew precisely what a man like Neal needed: a loose tether tracking anklet, a set of rules laid out before he'd even left the prison walls behind, and a shitty rooming house that would both prove Peter's total control over Neal Caffrey's life and present his new belonging with a challenge.

Neal passed beautifully. (Peter liked June. She was classy and loved dogs.) The suits were a nice touch.

A really nice touch, actually. Peter didn't pretend to know that much about classic fashion or any of that crap but he was willing to admit, if only to himself, that the shirts Neal wore were like art, and Neal wore the hell out of them.

All of which meant it was time for the carrot, now Neal had been given a little bit of stick.

***

Neal never intended to keep the anklet on. The first chance he got, he asked Mozzie to take it off him. Mozzie said he couldn't, and that was frustrating, but it wasn't anything Neal couldn't have dealt with.

He could have cut the strap, after all. He could have gone to the limit of his two miles, cut the strap, and bolted. If he were really twisty he'd have cut the strap and then doubled back, but he thought Peter would probably have known. And there was also Kate to consider; Neal could track her better in comfort, well-fed, and given certain freedoms by Peter, than he could as a fugitive who had to stay out from underfoot.

Still, for that first week he was tempted. He hated being imprisoned even without any bars -- perhaps especially without any bars. The rules Peter put in place chafed at him. Who was Peter Burke to tell him what to do? Why should he bend when the FBI said to bend? As far as he saw there was no reward for obedience. There was just a certain level of comfort that made it hard to decide on running.

He'd tried and rejected half a dozen different means of escape and was working on #7 when Peter walked into the office one morning and set a wine bottle on his desk. The wine bottle.

Neal looked up at him, wondering if he was allowed to touch it.

"It's not evidence," Peter said bluntly.

"No..." Neal watched him warily.

"So, take it, if you want it."

Neal reached for the bottle and touched it once, lovingly, but also with confusion.

"You said it was a promise," Peter said.

"I said it was the message," Neal murmured.

"I want you to have it. Remember," Peter added, leaning on the desk, looming over him, "that it was a message. Keep it, break it, I don't care. It belongs to you, you get it back."

He was about to walk away when Neal realized he had a question. "Why?" he called after him. Peter stopped and half-turned.

"I can make your life hard, or I can make it easy," he said.

"Which one is this?"

"This?" Peter grinned. "This is easy. You do good work for me, you get easy. You fight me, not so easy. I caught you twice," he added, turning away again. "Wouldn't you rather know I'm not on your ass?"

Neal smiled a little at that, because it was true; every escape plan he'd made eventually came up against the fact that as soon as he ran, Peter Burke would be after him, and he didn't have the luxury of years of head start on him this time.

"Thank you," he said, and Peter didn't stop walking, but Neal caught him smiling as he entered his office.

He stopped thinking seriously about escape routes after that, though he didn't realise it at the time. He still considered them, because Neal liked to have a plan, but after Peter gave him the wine bottle back they became...academic. Exercises to keep his mind sharp, with no real faith that he would actually use them.

None of them would have worked, anyway.

***

The problem with Neal was really that if you gave him a rule he obeyed it, but you had to give him the right rules. Otherwise you'd come downstairs one morning and find him sitting with your wife on your couch petting your dog and wearing a turtleneck. Nobody was supposed to look that good in a goddamn turtleneck.

Peter had all kinds of thoughts about Neal in those first days. The Neal Caffrey in his head had been an orderly list of traits, times, dates, informants interviewed, heists he couldn't prove, boxes of puzzles, but all carefully slotted into their place. Court dates. Testimony. The well-behaved case file in his head had been closed for four years, give or take a few times he'd dusted it off to put a birthday card in it. He'd never really thought about what else, other than a birthday, Neal might have been uncovering in his copious spare time.

Peter drove Neal home one night after a breakthrough on the Dutchman case, already late and impatient to get to his own home and to Elizabeth. And Neal, like a smartass, brought up The Anniversary.

"Big plans for the weekend?" he asked, casually.

"Y'know," Peter said, running down his to-do list mentally. "I gotta fix the sink...catch a game..."

"With Elizabeth," Neal said, sounding skeptical.

"Yeah -- yeah, she's into it, how cool is that?" Peter said, because he was endlessly proud that his wife liked baseball. Whenever fellow agents griped about that kind of thing, Peter just smiled. "She likes to watch the Giants."

"Even on your anniversary?" Neal asked.

Peter's first thought was a cavalcade of oh shit, because it was their anniversary and he had come inches from forgetting it. He had plenty of excuses -- Neal among them -- but none of them held water. Elizabeth was busy too, and she'd remember.

His second thought was, How the hell does Neal Caffrey know when my wedding anniversary is?

It was that thought, that slightly invaded feeling, that shortened Peter's temper -- that made him quick to point out that knowing everything about Neal was part of the job, and that Neal wasn't in a position to comment on his marriage. Especially Neal.

"You don't get to lecture me on relationships," Peter snapped, when Neal questioned his commitment to Elizabeth. "My wife didn't change her identity and flee the country to get away from me."

Neal looked shocked, and a little bit destroyed. Peter instantly regretted saying it, because he might have put Neal in prison but this guy, sitting in his car, wasn't someone he really would have wanted to put in prison. Neal Caffrey, outside of the neat file-folders in his head, was an actual person, with feelings that Peter could hurt, and it was startling to realise it. He didn't seem like the hardened criminal that Peter knew, intellectually, he had to be.

In that single moment in the car, in the rain, Peter realized that out of everyone in the world, he himself was most qualified to hurt Neal, because he knew the places Neal was vulnerable. The places Neal was breakable.

"That was harsh," he said, fumbling for -- an excuse, an apology that wouldn't undermine his authority. "I didn't mean that."

"Yeah you did," Neal said, and continued to shut him down for the rest of the drive home. Not sullenly, especially, and not angrily. He just nursed his injury and shut Peter down.

Peter wasn't a sadist. He didn't want to break Neal, not like that. Train him, yes. Teach him when to sit-and-stay, so that he could make use of Neal's mind without having to put up with Neal's...antics. But he had no interest in shattering Neal's essential, clever, mischievous self, the man who'd left Peter puzzles and cracked wise even while he was being handcuffed.

He found that, already, he liked Neal. Maybe he always had. He just wasn't sure he could avoid hurting him, because for Peter it would be so easy. There were moments, then and later, when Peter wanted to send Neal back to prison purely so that he didn't have to work so damn hard.

Elizabeth, as usual, was much more straightforward.

"He's prettier than his pictures," she mused, snuggling down in the blankets as Peter put out the light and climbed into bed. She'd met him, now; he wondered what she must have thought to open their front door and come face to face with the man her husband had hunted for years. "He's one of those people, you know, who look better when they're in motion."

"I just wish I could get him to sit still," he replied. He pulled her against him, arm around her waist, and she pressed her cold feet to his shins. "Jesus Christ, woman."

"One or the other," she replied, laughing. "Have you tried telling him?"

"Telling him your feet are -- so cold?" he groaned.

"Telling him to sit still," she replied.

"What is he, five?" he asked. Though, in some ways, Neal did need to be told things.

He tried it in the meeting room the next day. Damned if it didn't work.

"Will you stop pacing?" he snapped at Neal, who was trying to work out the layering process for the multicolor printing job on the Dutchman's Spanish Bond forgeries. "Sit down."

Neal sat immediately, hands on the table, fingers tapping, lips twitching. Peter stretched out a hand and rested it on Neal's arm. "Stop tapping."

It stopped like someone had muted the room. Neal was suddenly still. Not looking at Peter, not at all tense or frightened. Languid, even, just sitting very still. Peter was impressed with both of them, and not a little bit concerned. Either he had startled the other man into obedience or Neal was playing him, and it was almost impossible to tell which.

Although, perhaps it was easy enough to test it.

"Now, you work that out quietly. I'm going to go over the files," he said, and opened the latest report folder. He was nearly finished reading Diana's writeup when Neal snorted.

"Okay, got it figured out," he said. Peter looked up at him over the edge of the folder. "What? There's only so many ways to layer stuff."

Smartass.

Still, Neal was useful. Especially after the Dutchman case, when Diana was reassigned with full agent status, no longer a probie, and shipped off to DC to see what they could teach her. Her replacement, Cruz, was a hell of an agent, but Peter had trained a lot of probies and there was always some time before the dust settled and everyone got on with life. Neal was a good focal point, not just for Cruz (who'd studied him) and Jones (who liked the guy) but for Peter, who found Neal's limit-testing invigorating once he got past being annoyed by it.

After they recovered an antique Book of Hours for Barelli's church, Neal perhaps rightfully demanded a reward. He'd been a good boy, his attitude said, and he wanted a prize for not running when the strap came off and for carrying the bulk of the case. Peter couldn't deny that while they'd done the thinking together, he had mostly been the muscle on this one, and Neal had handled a lot of the active investigation.

Still, there was no point in making it easy on him, or pretending Neal was going to get a present after every case. His present was his freedom, after all.

"Do you think you really deserve a favor?" he asked, leaning back in his chair. Neal, across the desk, tilted his head. "I don't know exactly how you stole the book -- "

"Borrowed," Neal corrected. "Borrowed it. He got it back."

" -- but I have a clue, and I'm not pleased," Peter finished.

"Peter, I'm hurt. The dog was dying!" Neal said, a little sardonic drawl creeping into his voice. "A rescue dog from Iraq."

Peter couldn't deny this. The dog was a damn sad story. And Neal's puppy eyes, huge in his face, weren't helping.

"What is it you want?" he asked, wary. Neal brightened, and he took an advertising postcard out of his pocket, laying it on the table. Peter picked it up, noting that it had June's name and address on it before he turned it over.

"Gustave Caillebotte: Impressionist Paintings from Paris to the Sea," he read aloud. He raised an eyebrow at Neal. "And...?"

"It's at the Brooklyn Museum," Neal said.

"Which is out of your radius," Peter said, nodding. "Aha. Which one are you gonna steal?"

Neal grinned. "I'll buy a postcard. Promise I'll behave, Peter. I just want a couple of hours outside the radius to say hi to Gustave."

"Old friends, are you?" Peter asked, just to draw out the suspense a little. Neal didn't react, precisely, but there was a certain mulish expression in his eyes. Peter made a note to have Jones go over the authentication paperwork for the Caillebottes at the museum. "Yeah, fine. I'm coming with you, though."

"Peter -- "

"Non-negotiable. I'd like to trust you, Neal, I really would, but you're still trying bullshit on me," Peter told him. Neal scowled. "Besides, El's been wanting to see it for a couple of weeks."

Neal's scowl melted away, slowly. Peter could see the reasoning going on in his head: Peter liked art but he had no patience for the Impressionists, which Neal had probably deduced. If Elizabeth wanted to see the exhibit, then Peter wouldn't try to hurry either one of them through it, and Elizabeth would make Peter let him linger as long as he liked among the paintings.

It was insurance for Neal, of course, but it would also make El happy, which was important to Peter. Everyone won.

Well, except Peter, who had to spend an afternoon being bored by Impressionists, but he'd been bored by worse in his time.

Two days later, when El had a free afternoon and the FBI's workload looked momentarily clear, Peter made the call that he was taking Caffrey out of his radius and drove him across the Manhattan bridge. Neal spent most of the time staring out the window to their right, at the imposing rise of the Brooklyn bridge, but once they were in Brooklyn he grew restless, tapping his fingers on his thighs, head craning to see down side streets, eyes flicking over everything. At first he looked like he'd never seen Brooklyn before; tourists did the same thing. Then, slowly, Peter realized that he wasn't taking in the scenery -- he was memorising landmarks, studying the route.

"Straight shot down Flatbush," Peter said casually. Neal glanced at him. "El's meeting us there."

"You gonna take Plaza Street?" Neal asked skeptically. Peter fought down a smile.

"Sterling to Washington. It'll take a little longer but you don't get stuck on the loop that way," he told him.

El was waiting for them on the steps of the museum when they arrived, eating a hot dog she'd bought from a nearby food cart. Peter wiped a smudge of mustard off her cheek and kissed her hello.

"So, Neal," she said, finishing her lunch as they turned to go inside. "Excited about Gustave?"

"Yeah," Neal agreed, at ease now that they were here, strolling along with his hands in his pockets, long stride casual and graceful. He had a way of blending in anywhere that sometimes made Peter nervous -- because if he looked equally as if he belonged in a museum, or a church, or a bar, then how much did he really belong to the FBI? How much was just...Neal being Neal? Still too early to tell.

Peter trailed behind them to the exhibition gallery, a series of stark white-walled rooms with bare floors, the paintings hung in simple rows with their little placards nearby. El had her arm looped through Neal's as they examined one of them, but soon she drifted away; Neal stayed, drinking in the painting, and Peter stayed, watching Neal. El's heels clacked on the floor nearby, but otherwise there weren't many people in the gallery.

He wondered what Neal saw when he looked at something like that. Not just a commodity, though he was sure Neal was estimating the selling price of every painting here. Neal also knew how to forge paintings like this, which meant he knew about technique. What was he learning from Gustave Caillebotte?

Neal shuffled aside as someone else came up to view the painting, a museum map in his hand. They exchanged a few words; Peter, under the guise of examining the painting next to them, edged closer.

"...foreshortening," Neal was saying, as he floated his hand over the painting, apparently and enthusiastically explaining art to a tourist. "See how the rower almost comes out of the painting at you. It's hard to do. You can see him obscuring the faces, too, focusing on the shape of the bodies in contrast to the water around them. It's much more delicate than it looks."

"Do you work for the museum?" the man asked, following where Neal's hand led, close as it could be without drawing the attention of the guard at the door.

"I'm the curator," Neal said, giving the man a grin. Peter closed his eyes. Neal... "Jack Felton. You enjoying your visit? Come on, I'll show you my favorite," he added, and led the man away.

He could have stopped them, but Peter knew that there was no point; he'd already learned to tolerate Neal's inability not to be a criminal, even while working for the FBI. Instead he left Neal to fall or fly on his own merits, and found El studying a landscape in the corner.

"Neal's made a friend," she said.

"He has that habit," Peter sighed. "Enjoying yourself?"

"Yes, I am," she said, rubbing his arm and grinning. "Suffer a little longer."

"I'm not -- " he started, then gave up at her look. "I love you," he said instead.

"I know," she replied. "Why don't you go look at the mummies or something?"

"I'm supposed to be keeping an eye on Caffrey," he said. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Neal clap the tourist on the shoulder and wander away, into the next room. Peter followed.

Here it was the same, white walls and blond wood floor, but with a large white partition in the centre of the room. That was where Neal stood, gazing at a painting that the placard said was called The Floor Scrapers.

"This is my actual favorite," Neal breathed, as Peter approached. It was, Peter had to admit, striking -- two men on a dark wooden floor, amidst curls of discarded wood, one sharpening a knife while the other worked. "Look at the reflection of the windows in the wood."

"You told that man you were the curator of the exhibit," Peter said.

"No, I told him I was the curator of the museum," Neal corrected.

"Why do you do things like that?" Peter asked, frustrated. "Are you just incapable of not conning people?"

Neal turned to him and shrugged. "Why not?"

"Because you don't have to. Because most people don't walk through life pretending to be people they aren't."

"Boring," Neal said absently.

"I don't get you."

"Look, this is my reward for doing a good job. Let me have some fun," Neal said. "I enjoy myself, he's got a story to tell the folks back in Omaha, everybody walks away happy. God, it's gorgeous," he added, eyes following the line of the painting's wooden floor as it slanted from light to dark.

Peter digested this. In a way, it made sense, he supposed. Every piece of history he had on Neal Caffrey said that when he was in a corner, he charmed or lied his way out, and he'd been in a lot of corners even before he consciously took up crime. Maybe for Neal, lying was an outlet. They were almost sublime: forged paintings, elaborate setups, fascinating false identities. Some people gardened, some collected action figures, Neal Caffrey...improved on reality. Maybe because he had to.

He wondered, idly, what lies Neal told himself about Kate, and how much he believed them.

"What's so special about this painting?" Peter asked, letting the subject drop.

"Everything," Neal said.

"If you were going to steal it, how would you do it?" Peter pressed. Neal gave him a scornful glance.

"From here? Hardly worth my time," he said. "Private collections are hard, selling a forgery is a challenge. Stealing from a museum? Piece of cake. You know how the Mona Lisa was stolen?"

"Vincenzo Peruggia hid in a broom closet until the museum closed, took it off the wall, and walked out with it the next morning through a side door," Peter said.

"Not exactly Ocean's Eleven, was he?" Neal asked. "Museums aren't very secure. They can't afford all the stuff you see in movies. Broom closet pretty much does the trick. People came in droves to see the wall where it used to hang," he added, eyes still on the painting. "It's the reason it's famous. Everyone wanted to see where the Mona Lisa wasn't."

Peter nodded, and made his decision.

"I'm gonna go look at the mummies," he said. Neal gave him a sidelong glance, but didn't reply. "If you disappear I'm searching all the broom closets."

That night they ate dinner at a weird little place near the museum that El was scouting as a possible caterer for her company. Neal was quiet, subdued even, but it didn't seem to be unhappiness or preoccupation. If anything, he looked...calm. It didn't last longer than the evening (by the next morning he was a perpetual-motion machine again) but it gave Peter food for thought.

Then came the Mitchell case with the stolen gold, where Neal almost got shot again, and after that came the Carruthers Incident, where Neal did get shot.

That was before the Haustenberg theft -- Peter didn't usually keep such careful track of when he opened one case and closed another, but he remembered because the morning they got the call about the Haustenberg portrait was the first morning Neal was supposed to be back at work. And, admittedly, because of what happened during the Haustenberg case.

He wondered if Neal thought about the Carruthers Incident. Probably not. Most people didn't like to remember getting shot.

***

Neal thought about Carruthers a lot.

It wasn't that he enjoyed the memory of being shot, even if Carruthers had only winged him. He didn't especially like thinking about how he fell down and bashed himself in the head, either. Or the bumpy ride down the fire escape, arm tucked over Peter's shoulder, on the way to the alley and, eventually, the ambulance that pulled up. It was just that sometimes his mind wandered. More often than not it wandered to Carruthers, and to what happened after.

Of the fragments of memory that surfaced when he was in the hospital, the most vivid wasn't the sense of the world slipping out from under his feet, or the sound of Peter's cursing in the background. It was after he'd been passed over to the EMTs, who had a lot of people to look after and who had left him alone with a butterfly bandage on his arm and an ice pack wrapped in gauze pressed to the gash in his head. Scalp wounds tended to gush. Being left there, sitting on the bumper of the ambulance to see to his own aches and pains, that wasn't pleasant and not just because he was in pain. Peter was going to need him to help find the rag paper, and nobody else would be able to explain the whole laser printer thing, and what if they forgot to bag and tag the tea? Maybe Peter wouldn't know the tea was important.

He was about to get up and go find everyone when Peter was suddenly there again, covered in streaks of black grease, suit totally ruined (at least it wasn't Neal's favorite, the one Peter had worn both times he'd caught him) and a stippling of plaster dust across his face.

"Hey, you look like crap," Neal mumbled, as Peter sat down next to him.

"Seen a mirror lately?" Peter asked. "How you holding up?"

"I'll be fine. You get Carruthers?"

Peter gave him an odd look. "Don't worry about Carruthers. I gotta get back there soon, just making sure you were okay."

"Did you find -- " Neal began.

"Found it," Peter said smugly.

"What about the laser -- "

"It's taken care of."

"And the boxes of -- "

"Neal," Peter said, and Neal fell silent. You could only push Peter so far. "I'm taking care of it. Trust me."

"The tea's important," Neal said reproachfully.

"I know the tea's important."

"I could go -- "

"Stay. There," Peter told him. Neal tried his best kicked-puppy impression, but that rarely worked on Peter and lost something when there was blood still dribbling down Neal's ear. "Listen to me. You're going to stay here and I'm going to send the EMTs over, and they're going to take you to the hospital where you will let a doctor check you out. I'll come and get you."

"But you -- "

"Don't need you here right now," Peter said. "Relax, Caffrey. All you need to think about right now is sitting here and not bleeding on everything. I'm taking care of this. You don't have to worry about it. This is my job, okay?"

And suddenly Neal got it. Something clicked over in his head. He didn't have to worry, because Peter was going to do that. Peter would make sure the EMTs didn't forget him, and then Peter would stay here and clean everything up. Neal wasn't going to be blamed if something didn't get done. And everything would get done, because Peter always made sure everything got done.

The sheer relief of not having to think about anything or anyone made Neal's shoulders drop and that hurt like hell where his bandage pulled and that made him fumble the cold pack, but Peter caught it and handed it back to him. Neal took it with a mumbled thank you and pressed it to his head again, and Peter patted his knee and walked off.

Two minutes later the EMTs came back and packed Neal off to the hospital, and he passed out for a little while in the ambulance, just because he could. He didn't have to worry. Peter said so.

At the hospital they rebandaged his arm and gave him a neurological exam. They joked with him about stitching up his scalp without getting rid of all his gorgeous hair, and he could have responded, but he didn't. He didn't have to charm these people. All he had to do was lie still and wait for Peter to come get him. Peter would come.

Peter didn't actually come, but Neal's faith was justified; Elizabeth arrived just as they were loading him up with insurance paperwork and prescriptions for pain medication. She took all the paperwork and shoved it in her bag and checked him out, and held his hand as she led him to the car.

"We'll pick up the prescription and take you home," she said. By then the first dose of medication they'd given him at the hospital had kicked in, so he sat quietly while she picked up his pills and paid for them.

"Peter called me," she said, navigating the city streets. He tracked automatically the turns she took; she was taking him to June's house. "He said you were a hero. A stupid, stupid hero. He didn't give me any details. You want to talk about it?"

"I could talk," he said.

"But do you want to?" she asked. He looked at her. "You don't have to."

"No," he said. "Did Peter say if they got everything?"

"He said to tell you he's taking care of it and that yes, he tagged and bagged everything."

"That's good," Neal replied. He closed his eyes so that he wouldn't have to memorise the route.

Peter pulled up in an FBI van as they were getting out of the car, tossed the keys to a frankly terrified-looking Jones, and waved the van off.

"Cruz is doing mop-up," he announced, as they walked up the stairs and inside. June and Cindy were in the sitting room; Peter leaned across Neal and murmured, "Can you explain it to her?" to Elizabeth, who smiled and kissed Peter, and then kissed Neal on the cheek, and went to answer June's questions. Peter followed Neal up the stairs.

"What happened to Carruthers?" Neal asked, shedding his poor ruined shirt. One arm was totally missing, but he didn't think Byron would mind; from what June had told him about her late husband, he'd worn Devore suits through worse.

"Carruthers is dead," Peter said, and Neal looked up so sharply that he staggered. "Easy there," Peter said, grabbing him and helping him to the bed.

"How'd that happen?" Neal asked, pulling up one leg and slowly undoing the laces on his shoe.

"You don't remember?"

"I'm a little fuzzy," Neal admitted.

"I shot him," Peter said briefly. "I'm on administrative leave for a week. It's mandatory after a fatal shooting."

"You get in trouble?"

"Nah. It's a paperwork thing."

"Why'd you shoot him?" Neal asked, dropping the shoe and pulling his other leg up.

"Well, he was shooting at us," Peter replied. He put his hands on his hips, studying Neal. "You seriously don't remember me shooting him? You were there."

Neal frowned, then grinned. "You shot him for me?"

"I shot him because he was resisting arrest."

"You shot him for me," Neal teased. "He kicked your toy so you shot him."

"One, you are not my toy, you're my responsibility and you're not a barrel of laughs to look after," Peter retorted. "Two, he didn't kick you, all I knew was that he shot at you and you were bleeding from your head."

"I fell down," Neal said gravely.

"Heat of the moment," Peter told him, and turned to study Neal's bookcase, eyes flitting over the titles -- some of them Neal's, some Byron's, some June's. Neal dropped his other shoe and leaned back on the pillows while Peter continued. "What'd they say at the hospital?"

Neal shrugged. His arm twinged, but it felt sort of far away. "They said I should keep the wounds clean, rest for a few days, and make my boss bring me cookies. Did you bring cookies?"

Peter raised an eyebrow, still not looking at him. "Are you three?"

"No, sir," Neal answered. "Hey -- thanks for sending Elizabeth, though. She has all my paperwork."

"Well, a hospital's no place to be alone," Peter said. It was an innocent enough phrase in itself, a platitude almost, but the way he said it made Neal narrow his eyes.

"You really do know everything about me," he observed. Peter glanced at him, then back at the books.

"I know when you were ten your leg was broken," Peter said, and Neal could hear what he carefully avoided saying: neither you broke your leg, which would have been pretty common for an active ten-year-old boy, nor your father broke your leg, which was the truth. "Your parents dropped you off at the emergency room and left you alone there for about eight hours. I know social services was called, but you went back to your parents the next day."

Neal kept silent, uncertain how to respond. Peter didn't look like he was going to push it, but he wouldn't be the first.

"Anyway, I'll bring you the case report tomorrow," Peter said finally. "One of our legal guys'll probably want to take a statement about Carruthers. Get some rest."

"I expect cookies!" Neal called after him as he left. He heard Peter's snort of laughter before the door closed.

Elizabeth was explaining things to June, Cruz was mopping up, Carruthers was dead, and Peter would be back tomorrow so Neal could check the paperwork himself.

When Neal was on the run, or working a heist that had gone wrong, sometimes he'd find himself holed up or trapped with nothing to do for ten or twelve hours. He'd trained himself to sleep, so at least when he did have to think fast he'd be ready for it. He found himself in the same predicament now: drugged, mostly immobile, and with nothing to do until Peter came back. He could call up Moz, but what was he going to say? "Got shot, bored now, come watch me sleep"? No.

So he slept. And for the first time in months, Kate wasn't the last thought that crossed his mind before he drifted off.

***

When he woke the next morning, the sun was already up. His head ached and he was stiff -- well, everywhere. This was why he'd mostly stuck to forgery: you rarely found yourself falling down fire escapes.

He groaned his way out of bed and hobbled to the washroom, where the painkillers were. He swallowed two with a handful of water, then staggered back out towards the balcony doors. Just before he reached the long dining table that was currently covered in books and Byron's chess set, he paused. Something was missing. No, something was there that shouldn't be. He leaned over cautiously to get a better look.

It was a cookie.

Not just a cookie; one of those fancy cookies you got in high-end tourist bakeries downtown, where they were shaped and decorated like the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building or whatever. A big sugar cookie with white frosting on it. On top of the white frosting, in more frosting, was a pair of handcuffs.

Neal snorted, but he also felt a certain shiver of -- anticipation? Delight? -- hard to tell. He knew what it was supposed to mean: just Peter making a lame joke. But those were Peter's handcuffs on that cookie just as it was Peter's tracking monitor on his ankle. He was Peter's responsibility, and it pleased Peter to indulge his childishness. He thought about that for a minute, what it could mean and did mean, but he didn't reach any conclusions. He picked up the cookie and walked out into the sunlight to find June and Peter sitting at the breakfast table, drinking coffee. Peter was in the usual off-the-clock uniform, polo shirt and khakis.

"He rises," Peter announced, setting down his cup. "How's the head?"

"Ask me again in ten minutes," Neal said. June just smiled at him and poured the coffee. "Thank you."

"You're welcome, Neal," June replied, as Neal unwrapped the cellophane around the cookie. "I see you found Peter's present."

"El sent that," Peter protested. Neal bit into it and grinned. "She coddles him," he said to June.

"I'm sure 'she' does," June replied. Peter opened his mouth to answer and then apparently thought better of it; he turned to Neal instead.

"Brought the casefile for you, with the preliminary report," he said, tapping a manila folder sitting on the table. "Your forms are in there too."

"Do consultants have to do paperwork?" Neal groaned around a mouthful of cookie.

"They do if they don't want to end up back in prison," Peter said. Neal narrowed his eyes and tried again.

"Can I fill it out in Latin?" Neal asked. "It's a really efficient language. Most legal terminology is in Latin anyway -- "

"Neal." Peter's voice was like a wall. A wall hitting him. But a nice, reliable wall. Maybe the drugs were kicking in.

"Hm," June said. "Adversus solem ne loquitor."

Both he and Peter looked at her, startled. She shrugged and smiled. "Don't argue with the boss. Byron was always fond of that one."

"I'll print that on a t-shirt," Peter said.

"You'll have to wear it. Otherwise I'll never see it," Neal pointed out.

"June, please, do something with him," Peter begged, but he was laughing a little as he said it. "I gotta go."

"You have the week off," Neal reminded him.

"Yeah, and if you think I'm not taking advantage of that fact you're nuts. Text me when you're done with your statement this afternoon," Peter added, standing to leave.

"What am I supposed to do? Bed rest, seriously?" Neal asked.

"Write your report. Play Parcheesi. Learn to knit. I don't care, just keep out of trouble," Peter said. "June, thanks for the coffee."

He touched Neal's shoulder lightly as he left. Neal leaned back and stretched, catlike, and then flinched when the muscles in his arm twitched in protest.

"He'd look so nice in a tailored suit," June observed. She regarded Neal for a moment. "Screw Parcheesi. Five card stud?"

"I love you, June," Neal said.

She won all his matchsticks off him in two hours.

The fed from Legal showed up after that and took his statement, which was soul-harrowing; Neal had no idea the amount of detail he would be expected to provide, and considering his memory was sketchy at best he got a lot of thin-lipped grimaces and pained sighs.

When it was over, he found he was exhausted. Apparently getting shot really did a number on the body. He slept for a while, got up, ate some fruit that June had probably asked a maid to leave for him, and then for lack of anything better to do he went back to sleep.

He woke to find Moz rifling through his sock drawer.

"Hey man," Moz said, as Neal sat up and shook his head to dispel the last few clouds of sleep. "Where are you stashing your pills?"

"On the sink," Neal answered, annoyed.

"A bold decision," Moz replied.

"Keep your hands off the happy pills, I need those," Neal called, as Moz made for the bathroom.

"Probably adulterated with toxic substances," Moz called. "Do you know the contamination rate for pharmacy-dispensed pills?"

"I'm sure they're fine," Neal sighed.

You're going to get gangrene," Mozzie announced, returning with the pill bottle. Neal took it from him and dumped one into his hand, dry-swallowing. He put the bottle in the pocket of his pyjamas just in case Moz hadn't got the message; he could see him calculating their street value. "Or flesh-eating bacteria. Or both."

"I'm not going to get gangrene."

"I can get you antibiotics on the cheap. Good stuff too, none of this generic crap," Moz offered.

"I'm covered by the federal government," Neal informed him, and slid out of bed. He took down a shirt from the closet and pulled it on, buttoning it with fingers that felt about twice as thick as they were. Byron probably would have shuddered to see his tailored Sy Devore worn over a pair of six dollar box-store pyjama bottoms.

Sometimes Neal felt like he was sharing the room with Byron's ghost.

"Well, clearly I'm not needed here," Moz said loftily, and made as if to leave.

"Mozzie, come on," Neal tried. Moz stopped, chin up, shoulders straight, but he didn't turn around. "What'd I do?"

"What did you do? Nothing," Moz said. "Oh, wait, no, what you did was get shot and not tell me."

"I was gonna tell you," Neal said. "I was kinda busy being in pain at the time."

"You couldn't text? I had to hear it from June."

Neal rolled his eyes. "I promise next time I get shot I'll text. Happy now?"

"It'll do," Mozzie said. He fidgeted with his coat. Neal saw the corner of a DVD case peeking out of the pocket.

"What'd'ja bring me?" he asked. Moz scowled. "Come on, give it up, what is it? If you say Smokey and the Bandit..."

"I'm not sure you deserve The Thomas Crown Affair," Moz told him.

Neal caught his breath. "The original?"

"Would I inflict the remake on you?"

"I'll make snacks," Neal said immediately, and hustled off to the kitchen to rummage for popcorn while Moz slid the DVD into the player.

"So, what's the suit think of your heroics?" Moz asked.

"You know..." Neal said, tearing into the wrapper around a popcorn bag and tossing it in the microwave. It was a fancy microwave with a button just for popcorn. The one he and Kate had bought from a thrift store when they were starting out had been so ancient it'd had a dial. "Whatever, he doesn't -- "

Kate.

He hadn't thought about Kate since...since before the shooting.

"He doesn't what? Care for the rights of the common citizen? Mind using dodgy search warrants?" Moz prompted.

Neal fumbled a little, staring at the countdown on the microwave. 2:40, 2:39, 2:38...

"It's just another day to him," Neal said finally.

"That is because all feds are sociopaths," Moz told him. "Is that butter flavor?"

"Is there any other kind?" Neal asked, forcing a grin.

That night, he did think about Kate as he lay in bed (completely awake, thanks to his afternoon naps). He thought about how Kate would have reacted, had she known; whether she did know. There'd been a small piece in the paper, he'd seen it on a news website that afternoon, but it hadn't listed him by name. Peter kept Neal out of the newspapers, for plenty of good reasons, and it wasn't like Neal cared. He didn't want to be famous for being a detective. He wanted to be famous for -- well, things one couldn't prove in court.

It occurred to him, for the first time, that Peter wasn't just protecting his office's reputation when he did that. Maybe he was protecting Neal, too. The consultancy was an open secret, but noising it around could only land Neal in more trouble than he was already.

Kate. He was thinking about Kate. If he'd come home to Kate with scalp lacerations...well, she'd have got those big wide disappointed eyes, and scolded him for being reckless, and that would have just led to him doing something even more dangerous to prove he could. Okay, maybe a little bit to impress her, too. But she wouldn't be impressed, and he'd just keep doing it until finally they'd have it out in one big fight and fall into bed and have crazy angry sex until everything was worked out.

Kate would have been angry, and asked him why he'd do something stupid like that. Anger for his safety, sure, but you really couldn't compare it all anyway since if he had Kate he wouldn't be running around getting shot at with Peter. But Kate wasn't like Peter, who'd shot Carruthers and then briskly gone about cleaning up so Neal didn't have to. Or Elizabeth, who had held his hand when they left the emergency room.

He was suddenly lonely. Lonely for Kate in the bed next to him -- Kate who had kept him reined in, who had rightfully scolded him when things got too dangerous but always went along with his next stupid (or brilliant) plan. Lonely too for some reassurance that, tonight at any rate, he didn't have to think. And very, very confused.

The phone buzzed.

Neal stared at it, fumbled for it, and saw a text message notification. Three words from Peter's personal cell, not the Bureau-issue one. Go to bed.

He grinned and texted back. You're not boss of me.

Actually I am & El's boss of me & she says go to bed.

Neal hesitated. Then, slowly, he tapped out a message and hit send. How'd you know?

You figure it out.

Man, trust Peter to remember that -- four years ago, he'd asked Peter how he'd caught him, and that's what Peter had said. You figure it out.

He closed the phone and set it back on the bedside table, pulling a pillow down a little further under his head. He had his orders. The room, busy all day with June and the fed from Legal and Moz and The Thomas Crown Affair and fancy microwaves, was finally quiet. Neal slept.

Chapter Two

References:
Oarsmen Rowing on the Yerres and The Floor Scrapers, Gustave Caillebotte
Vincenzo Peruggia's theft of the Mona Lisa
Handcuff cookies!
girlpearl: Rodney McKay with ZPM looking delighted with text "Score!" (score!)

[personal profile] girlpearl 2010-08-12 04:17 pm (UTC)(link)
I think I have said ALL THE USEFUL THINGS about Exquisite, ever*, so here I will only say: *kermit flail*


*AND YET what am I doing RIGHT NOW, in another tab? You're damn right I am.
fanofall: avatar of me (Default)

[personal profile] fanofall 2010-12-21 07:20 pm (UTC)(link)
Can I second the *kermit flail*? Because I totally do...
sanura: (Default)

[personal profile] sanura 2010-08-12 09:12 pm (UTC)(link)
You make me so very happy. I know, I know, constructive comments and all... Standard exceptional Samdom. Characterization, voices, motivation behind clever dialogue, fixing canon... but I just have to tell you how you made my day with these. I'm saving the second one till after I've done some work, and looking forward to it like Christmas. Or, like Sherlock looks forward to 4 serial suicides.
sorrel: (Default)

[personal profile] sorrel 2010-08-13 01:39 am (UTC)(link)
It was like Christmas.

Oh, Peter.

None of them would have worked, anyway.

Oh, Neal.

This is really fantastic, careful and detailed and uh, I'm going to go with the cliche and say exquisite because that's the description that comes to mind. The nascent beginnings of a d/s dynamic between them growing into something more solid is beautiful to behold, and I can't wait to see where it's all going to end.
whoaitslaur: (Default)

[personal profile] whoaitslaur 2010-08-13 05:56 am (UTC)(link)
Neal looked up at him, wondering if he was allowed to touch it.

I don't know why, but this line was so delicious I found myself rereading it several times.
secondsilk: Scott from Strictly Ballroom, caught at the end of the turn, arms raised. (Default)

[personal profile] secondsilk 2010-08-13 01:02 pm (UTC)(link)
I like the detail about handcuffing Neal, and the way that the dynamic/their awareness of the dynamic changes over time.
trinity_clare: (white collar)

[personal profile] trinity_clare 2010-08-13 06:54 pm (UTC)(link)
Every time I leave the internet for a week, something happens that I would have wanted to know about, and I think I just found this week's news. ♥___♥
melusina: (white collar ot3 artisis)

[personal profile] melusina 2010-08-14 01:25 pm (UTC)(link)
I've been eagerly anticipating this since [personal profile] girlpearl gave me the heads up that you were writing it, and it definitely doesn't disappoint! The text message exchange at the end of this chapter is absolutely delightful and I really like the way you're setting up Neal's need/craving for boundaries and Peter's recognition of that.

Part 2 and 3 are open in new tabs, to be read as a reward for getting my chores done this morning. . .
debitha: (Medusa)

[personal profile] debitha 2010-08-15 02:10 pm (UTC)(link)
I keep meaning to watch White Collar, but I'm starting to wonder whether I should leave it, because I like your version just fine. :oP
debitha: Mermaid in silhouette (Default)

[personal profile] debitha 2010-08-15 05:01 pm (UTC)(link)
I have the first couple episodes, I just haven't watched them yet.

*looks at clock* Well, it's not like I'm going to get any of the things I meant today done anyway. *g*
debitha: A sign from a kids playground that says, "Pretending to be an aeroplane is permitted in this area" (Aeroplanes are OK)

[personal profile] debitha 2010-08-15 10:13 pm (UTC)(link)
I am two episodes in and am immensely charmed. Although Peter's face bugged me for ages.

Don't get me wrong, it's a very nice face, it's just that apart from being squarer and about a foot higher, it is disorientingly similar to a that of a friend of mine. Which should therefore not have an American accent, nor be kissing girls. Talk about throwing you out of a story. :oP

At least now I have worked out why it was bugging me. I shall persist and get over it!

[identity profile] damietta.livejournal.com 2010-08-15 06:45 pm (UTC)(link)
This is really, really good. It has been a very long time since I was so excited to see Part Two in a story!

I loved the cookie. I loved June being there, too. I loved that Peter could see the real Neal by looking in his eyes (and not the Neal that Neal tries to portray through those eyes).

I loved that Neal slept because he felt safe enough because Peter was taking care of everything...including him.

This chapter made me smile and tear up all at the same time. Brillant.
julii_wolfe: created by [livejournal.com profile] oxoniensis (Default)

[personal profile] julii_wolfe 2010-08-16 09:11 pm (UTC)(link)
dude, this is pretty awesome. I'm loving the insight and perspective you are giving on how Neal and Peter work. Some of your background is amazing because I hadn't considered why Neal would become Neal. I love how you show Peter slowly grounding Neal, and Neal's learning to appreciate it.

Off to read the rest!
carthasis: (Default)

[personal profile] carthasis 2010-08-21 01:24 pm (UTC)(link)
I started watching the show because I wanted to read this story but now... download is slow and I'm sitting here and thinking: do I catch up watching, or do I just read the fic and watch the show after? What do you recommend? ;)
carthasis: (Default)

[personal profile] carthasis 2010-08-21 08:55 pm (UTC)(link)
Lol. I decided to finish S1 at least, though seriously, why is Peter/Neal/El not canon? It totally should be. Will it be? I suppose not, but it's so... obvious. (Just out of curiosity - I just finished Free Fall; was that one of the big spoilers I would have been spoiled for?)
azurelunatic: A glittery black pin badge with a blue holographic star in the middle. (Default)

[personal profile] azurelunatic 2010-08-24 08:24 am (UTC)(link)
I very much enjoy how Neal allows himself to relax after being told that Peter's in control. Especially in the hospital bits.

(Anonymous) 2011-01-21 06:02 pm (UTC)(link)
Ok, so I was already in love with this fic from the first few scenes, but then I got to the end of the chapter and saw the links to the pictures...You put a lot into this story. I can't wait to read the rest.

true_masquerade: (el smile)

[personal profile] true_masquerade 2011-03-03 03:20 pm (UTC)(link)
I am re-reading this for at least the third time... It's so good, the characterisations are so rich you make me love them all even more :-) It's the one and only story I've ever printed a paper copy of :-)

I'm sorry to bother you, I feel really silly asking this... but is the Carruthers Incident a canon episode and I'm just not remembering it properly? Did it actually happen, or is it one of those times when your stories literally create the images in my head and then I "remember" watching them...?
ceares: cookie all grown up (Default)

[personal profile] ceares 2011-04-05 08:01 am (UTC)(link)
really, a bonus to incredibly lovely storytelling is the gorgeous artwork referenced and neat little tidbits and trivia that come with the stories.

(Anonymous) 2011-12-03 03:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Reading this is like eating dark chocolate. Or watching Neal on the screen. :'D

You are by far the best WC ficcer I've seen so far; that's not just flattery, y'know.

"The problem with Neal was really that if you gave him a rule he obeyed it, but you had to give him the right rules. Otherwise you'd come downstairs one morning and find him sitting with your wife on your couch petting your dog and wearing a turtleneck. Nobody was supposed to look that good in a goddamn turtleneck."

^ I just absolutely loved that bit right there too.