sam_storyteller: (White Collar)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2011-05-25 08:42 am

Exquisite, Chapter 20

Title: Exquisite
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: While what happens at the end of this chapter isn't a panic attack, it's enough of an altered state that I want to warn for it.
Summary: Neal is finding a place for himself, both at the Bureau and in Peter and Elizabeth's life. Unraveling the mystery of the music box might ruin everything -- but that's a risk he has to take.
BETA CREDIT JESUS: [ profile] neifile7, [ profile] 51stcenturyfox, [personal profile] girlpearl, [ profile] tzikeh

Master Post
Chapter Nineteen


Sunday morning, Elizabeth came downstairs to find Peter and Neal in a heated debate about pastry.

"It's a doughnut," Neal was saying. "One doughnut's not going to kill you."

"You have the metabolism of a nineteen-year-old," Peter answered. "A doughnut's not going to kill you. Besides, the whole cops-and-doughnuts thing gets old fast. I want a bagel."

"One doughnut, Peter! Enjoy life!"

"I'd like to enjoy life when I'm seventy, so I'll have a bagel, thank you."

"There's probably more fat in the cream cheese than in this delicious doughnut."

"Problem solved," Elizabeth announced, reaching out to take the pastry Neal was waving at Peter. "Thank you for bringing us breakfast," she added to Neal, giving him a kiss on the cheek and then biting into the doughnut. Peter began spreading cream cheese on a bagel. "Any particular occasion?"

"Business, believe it or not," Neal replied, taking another doughnut out of the bakery bag. "First, we found Gerhardt Wagner. Well, Mozzie did. Turns out he's dead."

"Murdered?" Peter asked, licking cream cheese off his lip. Sometimes Elizabeth still couldn't get over how adorable Peter could be without noticing it.

"Not as far as we can tell." Neal looked awkward for a minute. "He changed his name to Michael Hunter when he immigrated."

Peter gave him a sharp look.

"Yeah," Neal said. "Apparently he was Alex's grandfather."

"Does Alex know you found this?" Peter asked, all business now. Elizabeth nibbled at her doughnut and watched them.

"Not yet. I tried to call her, but she's not answering. And I wanted to talk to you first, anyway. Obviously she knows more about all of this than she's letting on. She might have known from the start that the music box had that code in it." Neal looked down. "Might've been playing us. If she knew she couldn't decode it herself, she could have passed it off to us."

"Making us her bird-dogs. Can't fault her for smarts," Peter said. Neal nodded; Elizabeth studied him.

"But that's not all, is it?" she asked. Neal glanced up at her. So did Peter.

"That's all about Gerhardt Wagner," Neal said. "Um. It was a weird evening."

"You mean it got weirder after you spent the night posing as me?" Peter asked.

"Yeah, actually."

"Were there aliens?" Elizabeth asked with a grin. Neal gave her a smile.

"No aliens. Unless Mozzie's not telling me something."

"So?" Peter spread his hands. Neal sat back.

"I kinda kissed Sara last night," he said. Elizabeth glanced at Peter, who had one eyebrow raised. "Okay, maybe more than kissed. Less than sex, though."

"You get interrupted?" Peter asked, and Elizabeth would have swatted him for that, because Peter could be kind of an ass to Neal sometimes, except Neal's expression told her that the shot had hit home.

"Mozzie," Neal said.

"Wow," Elizabeth put in. "Awkward."

"Not nearly as awkward as..." Neal spread his hands, indicating them both. Elizabeth looked at Peter; he had a complicated expression on his face, somewhere between jealousy and vindication. "I thought, well, okay, I'll try this honesty thing. So. I've never really understood the whole concept of bases, but I'm pretty sure I got to at least second base. Or she did. I don't know how that metaphor works," he added, narrowing his eyes.

"We..." Peter glanced at Elizabeth. "I think we agreed it wasn't really fair to you to expect fidelity. Not in this situation."

Neal nodded, but he looked almost hurt.

"If you need to...stop..." Peter's lips pressed together as he tried to figure out how to say it. Elizabeth could have probably said it for him, but it was more fun watching him work it out for himself. "If you need to back off to give this thing with Sara a chance, that'd be understandable."

"That wasn't where I was aiming," Neal said. Elizabeth could hear the flat, emotionless note in his voice.

"Lying to your partners doesn't work," she said softly. "And you can't tell Sara about us. You know that. Too many people know already."

"She's not my partner," Neal retorted. "You're my partner," he added to Peter. "I don't want to back off, I don't want to just be friends or whatever, that's crap. I just want to know you're okay with it."

"And if things get serious?" Peter asked.

"We kissed. Once." Neal looked angrier now. "I didn't propose marriage to her. Look, if you don't want me to see her -- "

"That's not what I said," Peter replied. Elizabeth put a hand between the two men, who were glaring at each other, and waved it gently. Both of them looked at her, still glaring, but she'd dealt with much crankier people than Peter Burke and Neal Caffrey in the last few years.

"Nobody's saying you have to back off," she said to Neal, who dropped his eyes. "And we're not making truth a condition of your relationship with someone else. We just want to make sure you don't hurt Sara, and that you don't get hurt."

"Okay." Neal took a breath. "So...?"

"It's fine," Peter said, obviously attempting to relax as well. "This is your relationship. You handle it however you need to and we'll back you."

"You won't say no, right?" Neal asked, going for lighthearted. She wasn't cruel enough to tell him he was missing by a mile.

"That's right," Peter said, more seriously.

"Okay," Neal repeated. "I'm gonna...go think about things. Or not think about things."

"Monday we have that bust first thing, we'll deal with Wagner when we get back afterward," Peter reminded him.

"Fauxlexes, right," Neal said. "Thank you," he added, standing and kissing Elizabeth on the forehead. Peter caught his wrist as he passed and pulled him in, until Neal took the hint and kissed him, as well.

"Be good," Peter told him.

"Trying," Neal murmured, and gathered up his hat, closing the kitchen door gently behind him as he left. They sat there in silence for a moment, Peter picking apart one end of his bagel, until Elizabeth slid over into his lap, resting her head on his shoulder.

"You okay?" she asked, as he secured her there with one arm. "With this, I mean?"

"Not even close," Peter answered. "But -- I don't have the right to demand anything of him, not like that. Sara could be really good for him. So I'm just going to have to deal with it. My problem, not his."

"Good man," she said, kissing him.

"Do my best," he replied.


Of course it wasn't that easy. With Peter, it was never that easy.

Neal honestly didn't know why he bothered sometimes. He adored El and he needed Peter in a way that was hard to define, but something about Neal's apartment turned Peter into a tactless asshole. It was like every time Peter came over, he was actively trying to remind Neal why he should hate the man who chased him down and arrested him, instead of wanting to let Peter tie him up and fuck him.

Neal had been working on his Demuth's Chrysler painting for a week or two when Peter saw it for the first time, and instead of saying something polite like "nice painting" or something noncommittal like "that's interesting" he had to tweak Neal about Sara.

"Painting it for your girlfriend?" he asked, while Mozzie fiddled with the antenna and threw out suggestions for what could be on the missing U-boat.

"Are you nine?" Neal replied, easily enough. Peter gave him a bland look and a shrug, which was somehow more infuriating than anything he could have actually said.

"Well, if you're not going to woo her with the Raphael..." he added, and that was really the breaking point. It shouldn't have been, Neal used to be more patient, but it was.

"Moz, you said that thing takes some time to warm up?" Neal asked. Mozzie, who caught the note of annoyance in his voice, glanced back at him and nodded. "We'll keep an eye on it. Why don't you go say hi to June?"

Mozzie narrowed his eyes. "You'll call me if anything happens?"

"Yes, Moz, I will call you if anything happens," Neal assured him.

"Even the tiniest blip?"

"The littlest bleep will be my watchword," Neal said, propelling Mozzie towards the doorway.

"Don't go hunting without me!" Moz called, as the door closed behind him. Peter was watching Neal, head cocked.

"Okay, you and I need to talk about this," Neal said, coming back to the table. "Because you don't get to say it's fine if I see other people and then constantly give me crap about Sara."

"I don't see how the two are related," Peter said, crossing his arms.

"You don't -- Peter, you're not stupid, don't pretend to be," Neal said. "You're playing games with me, which is beneath you, and not something I thought I'd get from you."

Peter shook his head, more serious now. "I'm not playing games. I think it's good. I'm trying to be okay with it."

That made Neal pause. "So you're not okay with it."

"I didn't say that."

"For God's sake," Neal shouted. "Will you make up your mind? It's hard enough to make up my own without having to worry about yours too."

"Make up my mind about what, about Sara?" Peter asked, standing slowly, leaning on a chair. "I think she's good for you. I think you should take a shot, see if it works. Mind made up enough for you?"

"But you're not okay with it, you keep taunting me about her in front of my friends, the people I work with, like it's okay for them to do it too," Neal said. "You making fun of something I'm trying to do, in front of my best friend? Mozzie's already against practically every person I'm interested in, I don't need you helping him take digs at her."

"Mozzie doesn't like Sara?"

"That's so far beside the point it's in another state, Peter!"

"Well, what do you want from me? This is what people do, what friends do. They poke a little fun. It shows they're okay with what you're doing."

"But that isn't what you're doing, is it?" Neal asked. "One minute you're telling me not to break your heart, the next you're shoving me at Sara. So forgive me for being a little angry, Peter, but I'm getting a few mixed messages here."

"There's a difference between betraying trust and -- " Peter rubbed his hands through his hair. "I don't want you back out there, living wild, breaking the law. The nights you spend with us, yes, those are valuable to me, to us, but we could give those up if we knew you were safe, if we knew you were happy. You betray that -- that hurts me. And Elizabeth."

"So what do you want? No, I want to know," Neal said, as Peter turned away in frustration. Peter was silent for a while, back tense, shoulders stiff. Finally he turned around again.

"I want you to get your parole," he said. "I want you to get your parole and -- stay here, stay with the FBI, work with me, do good things in the world. But I also want you to find...that place, I can see it in you, where you have just a little bit of peace. Do you get it?" Peter asked, and the intensity of his voice knocked Neal silent. "I want the white picket fence for you, Neal, I swear to God I do."

"Suburban house, two and a half kids?" Neal asked, disdainfully. "You think guys like me get that, Peter? Because the last two years have taught me a little differently."

"Neal -- " Peter rubbed his head in frustration. "I think guys like you were don't get that. You don't have to be who you were. You've seen -- you can see what El and I have. You can be good and be happy, really happy. I want you to be good, Neal. Yeah, with a home and someone who loves you, and a job you're good at that keeps you on this side of the law. I want someday for you to find a peace El and I don't have to give you. For yourself. If only because this, what we have, it's never going to be easy. Especially for you."

"What if this is what I want?" Neal asked. "This. Forever. What if this is my white picket fence, Peter? You going to push me out of it?"

Peter shook his head. "If your shot at Fowler taught me anything, it's that I can't push you out. I've figured it out, okay? You matter in ways that are positively terrifying to me. So yeah, you want this? You got it. But maybe you should want something more. Maybe this thing with Sara only proves it." He drew a breath and said, "I know you want kids."

Neal stared at him.

"Come on, I see the way you look when there are kids around. You're never gonna have that with us. Hell, you're never going to be able to tell anyone about us. There's so much you won't have, if this is what you choose, even after you get parole. I don't want you to give up the life you could have and hate us for it later."

"So I should give you up instead?" Neal asked. "This is my decision, Peter, and there are sacrifices either way. You have to let me make it. Don't make it for me and then shove me through it."

Peter bowed his head, one hand propped on the chair.

"What do you want, Peter?" Neal asked.

"I want what's -- "

"Oh, fuck what's best for me," Neal interrupted. "I'll say what that is, because I'm me. What do you want? Be selfish. Be selfish just for long enough to tell me. Promise I won't tell anyone," he added, trying to lighten the mood a little bit. Peter gave him a skeptical, mildly annoyed look. Neal moved closer, until they were almost touching.

"What do you want, Peter?" he asked again, quieter now.

"I want you," Peter said. "And I don't want to share you. I don't want Sara or Alex or anyone else in your bed. I want you for me and El. But that's not okay, Neal. You have to see that's not okay."

"It doesn't have to be," Neal shrugged. "If it's what you want, it's what you want."

"Spoken like a true criminal," Peter said bitterly. "I don't get to cater to my id, and you don't get to bow to it either. So yeah, part of me wants that. But the better part of me wants what will keep you safe and happy, and that's not some vow to me and El. You might be the only one who can say what's best for you, but you gotta figure that out first and right now you're not doing a very good job of it. Let me help you while I can."

"And pushing me at Sara, that's helping me?"

"Pushing you to explore your options. Yes, it is," Peter said.

"Do you want me to stop coming home with you? You want us to stop?"

"Not unless you want to. But if you want to, when that time comes -- yes, we will stop, and we will be friends, and it'll be good, Neal. I swear, it will."

"Trust you, huh?" Neal asked.

"Something like that," Peter agreed.

"Then who else am I supposed to trust, Peter? What's the criteria for that, exactly?"

Peter held his stare, calm now. "That's the question, isn't it?"

There was a soft knock at the door.

"If you two are done with your lover's spat, I need to check some calibrations," Mozzie announced. Peter raised one hand to his face as Neal stepped backwards, putting some distance between them. Mozzie seated himself and glanced up at them as he twiddled dials and knobs on the device. "Or, if you're not done, by all means, don't mind me."

"He used to make popcorn when Kate and I fought," Neal said.

"I love a quarrel," Mozzie proclaimed.

"I think we're done here, because I'm not performing for you," Peter told Mozzie. He glanced at Neal. "We'll work it out, all right?"

Neal nodded. "Are we okay?"

"For now. We'll talk more."

"Lay off Sara," Neal warned. Peter nodded. "Okay."

They probably wouldn't have let it drop -- Peter was stubborn and Neal knew himself to be persistent when he thought he was right -- except that Neal called Alex to see if she could help them find the U-boat.

And Vincent Adler answered.


Peter was well aware that he was meeting Adler for the first time in the worst possible circumstances. Still, he wasn't thinking about the danger, about giving up his gun or unlocking Neal's anklet or the weapons pointed at him. When he saw Adler face to face -- him in the back seat of a limo, Adler turned from the front seat to smile nastily at both of them -- he thought, So this is the man.

He hadn't realized until then that he'd been in unconscious competition with Adler. This was the man: the last man Neal had submitted to in any real way, the last man to get the best of Neal Caffrey. The man who'd made him who he was, in Neal's own words.

Peter had never wanted so badly to kill someone in his life. For his crimes and what he'd done to Neal -- for Kate's death and the two years of torment Neal had lived in -- but also because Adler owned part of Neal and Peter didn't want anyone else owning that part but him.

And Adler dominated them both. Effortlessly. Which just made Peter that much more determined.

When he woke from the drugs, it was to a stinging slap across the face, and the vision of Alex looking down at him and smiling like she'd enjoyed the slap a little more than strictly necessary. Peter grunted and pushed himself up on his elbows.

"Thank you," he managed.

"My pleasure," she replied, taking one of his hands to pull him up to sitting. She gestured at Neal, propped against one wall like a rag doll. "Neal's still out."

"I'm going to strangle someone," Peter announced, his usual tact perhaps still not quite restored. "I haven't decided who yet."

"You could start with Vincent Adler and I wouldn't mind," Alex told him.

"Alphabetically, he does come first," Peter agreed. He rubbed his head, as if that would stimulate his brain to work faster, and then glanced sidelong at her. "You okay?"

"Not nuts about having been grabbed, drugged, and left unconscious in a limo with three strange men," Alex said drily. "But I'm fine. Did they whack the two of you on the head?"

"No," Peter replied. "They grabbed Neal, got to me through him. It was all very...civilized."

"Yeah, that's Vincent. Very civilized. Right up until he threatens to kill you," Alex agreed.

"That's right. You've tangled with him before."

"Oh, Neal told you that, did he?" she asked, no real annoyance in her voice. "Yeah, we went a round. Scared the shit out of me, I backed off. Don't know how Neal spent five months with snake-eyes. He's dead inside, you know."

"Who, Adler?"

"Yeah. I don't even believe in souls, but if they do exist he's missing one."

"I got that impression," Peter agreed. He pushed himself to his feet and began to pace, trying to get the blood flowing again. Alex stayed on the bed, watching him, occasionally glancing at Neal.

"Can I ask you something?" she said, eventually.

"You can ask," he offered.

"Gee, thanks." She shifted a little, frowning. "You and Neal."


"Why are you doing all this for him? You could have arrested me back when we took down Russel Smith."

"Oswald," Peter corrected. "We were taking down George Oswald. Russel Smith was just in the way."

"Potayto, potahto," Alex said with a small smile.

"And we weren't after you."

"And I'm a friend of Neal's," she added. "We study our enemies, Agent Burke. I know the risks you've taken for Neal. You're here now. So. Why? What's in it for you?"

"That's the problem with you cons," Peter told her. "You think there's got to be an angle to everything."

"Oooh, the moral high ground! Kind of hot, in a weird, Catholic way," she replied. Peter rolled his eyes. "Come on. Why do this?"

Peter snorted. "Kate Moreau asked me that, once."

"Can't escape Kate," Alex murmured. She tossed her hair back, smiling at him. "And?"

"And I'll tell you what I told her," Peter said. "Neal is good."

"Oh, come on -- "

"He is. He's good at this, but he also wants to be good. And he's smart. Smarter than I am, smarter than anyone I've ever met. And I'm tired of watching him get jerked around."

She bowed her head a little, hair falling across her face, and Peter studied her.

"Let me ask you something back," he said. Alex looked up again. "You know anything about Neal's past? His childhood?"

"No," she said. "That's not the kind of thing you share. Well. Not the kind of thing we share."

"You don't know anything about his parents?"

"Why, do you?" she asked.


The expected question didn't come, which was a relief but also a puzzlement.

"Aren't you curious?" he asked.

"If I've learned anything from Neal, it's that some things are better left buried," she said.

"I don't agree with that."

"Well, of course not. You're a Fed," she pointed out.

Peter was about to reply when Neal shifted and groaned; Alex slipped from the bed to the floor, kneeling next to him. Neal opened his eyes and gave Alex a loopy half-smile.

"Alex," he slurred, sounding satisfied. "I was looking for you."

She glanced over her shoulder at Peter. "Should I?"

"I think it'll help," Peter said. Alex gave Neal a ringing slap, putting a lot of shoulder into it. And Neal, of course, said Thank you too.

Adler interrupted them before they could talk much more; Neal was still slightly unsteady on his feet as they were led out of the little makeshift cell, into the warehouse that held their holy grail: the German submarine, U-869, formerly resting off the coast of North America. It was mammoth, seemingly almost too big for the room that held it, towering over them as they walked.

Neal and Alex had risked their lives and freedom, more than once, for a piece of this. Kate had died for it, and probably others. Vincent Adler had scoured the world for it, played games with the lives of innocent people for it, killed for it; his father and Alex's grandfather had both hunted it their whole lives. Inside it was a fantastic unknown treasure, the stuff of legend.

He'd be lying if he said he didn't feel a shiver of excitement. Neal looked like he was feeling a full-body tremor -- not so much in the way he moved, but in the ways he didn't move, He didn't look directly at the U-boat, or make much eye contact. Neal's hatred, too, was palpable, but he was keeping it under control. That, Peter thought with a little ounce of pride, was his training showing through. A year ago Neal would never have managed to stay so calm in the face of his most hated enemy.

And they did have a job to do -- and Neal was nothing if not a professional, when he was on the job.


Sara wasn't sure what she'd been expecting when she knocked on Neal's door for their lunch date. Last time, he'd come to the door half-naked. A girl could dream.

Instead she got Mozzie, a lecture on why it was a bad idea to date con men, and a scolding for tardiness.

Not that Mozzie wasn't voicing some of the thoughts that were running through her own head. Neal would never be able to be honest with her, not about some things, and while she knew it was possible to manage him (Peter did, after all) she didn't think it was either a walk in the park or a long-term boon for one's sanity.

On the other hand, she liked Neal, and Sara was not the kind of woman who avoided misadventure. Which was just as well, because soon she found herself hurrying out of the mansion Neal lived in, Mozzie at her elbow with the antenna in his hands, eyes scanning the street for the FBI surveillance van Diana said was coming to pick them up.

"I warn you now," Mozzie told her, "I may act slightly crazy when we get there."

"You mean you're not currently at slightly crazy?" she asked, genuinely a little worried. "I'd hate to see your definition of psychotic."

"I get anxious when my friends are in danger," Mozzie said. "And I really hate Feds."

"Peter's a Fed."

Mozzie waved this off, almost dropping the antenna in the process. "The exception that proves the rule. Besides, my hate is philosophical."

"Of course it is," Sara murmured to herself, as the van pulled up and Mozzie started haggling over whether or not he was getting in. Admittedly, Agent Barrigan didn't seem to have much patience for Mozzie, but then Sara could understand the sentiment.


Neal would never, in a million years, admit to anyone that when they pulled the front off the first crate and found a van Dyck inside, he got a little hard.

It was only natural, he figured. Adrenaline was pumping through him from nearly getting blown up, and he was in a dark treasure-trove of a sub with Peter all sweaty and warm nearby, and there was van Dyck's lost Self-Portrait As A Boy staring up at him. There were rubies and pearls in another crate; Peter uncovered a Romantic pastoral scene and then Neal opened a box full of Rembrandt sketches. Who wouldn't get a little turned on?

This was what he lived for. Art, yes, but also the challenge: trapped in a Nazi submarine full of priceless gold and high explosives, how the hell was he going to get Peter and Alex out of here alive?

Alex, of course, had wits enough to help out, staging a diversion and giving Neal an opportunity to palm the signal beacon. It was a long shot, getting it up and running before the drug Adler was going to give them would take effect, but in the car they got lucky: the guards shoved them inside, told them to drink up, and then leaned back out to have a conversation with Adler.

And the limo had a DVD player.

"Be there," Neal ordered, pointing to the doorway, and Peter obediently shifted, his broad back blocking most of the door. Neal reached up into the slot behind the little television screen, stripped a wire with his teeth, and prayed he understood wartime-era electricians well enough to jump the thing into life. Still praying, he tucked it inside the cavity where the screen would normally rest when not in use.

He was just settling back when Peter grunted and twisted; one of the guards had shoved him back into his seat, and a gun was pointed into the limo.

"Drink," Adler ordered, climbing into the front seat. The three of them exchanged looks, lifting their glasses.

"Salut," Neal murmured, as he downed the bitter concoction.

"Et au revoir," Alex said in response.

"Seriously?" Peter asked. "Now is the time for romanticism?"

Neal tried to reply, but the drugs were already working -- the dizzy, drunken light-headedness hit him fast. He barely managed a wink at Peter as he slipped into unconsciousness.


Interlude: Shell Shock

Peter has a little ritual. Elizabeth doesn't know from personal experience when it started, but she's not stupid.

He'll wake up in the night and be gone for ten or fifteen minutes, and if she wakes when he leaves the bed, she can hear him downstairs, moving around, and the click of metal. Just once, he stayed; she lay in the dark and watched, unnoticed, as he picked up his wristwatch and handcuffs, and put the cuffs over his left wrist, timing himself.

It's not every night, but it's often enough.

He touches the cuff to his wrist, times himself, takes it away with thinly-veiled relief; he takes a breath and then closes the cuff around his wrist, not locking it, and times himself again. Then he does lock it, and his breath rasps but he pushes through ten, twenty, thirty seconds before he unlocks himself.

They've always been honest with each other, and while they may have little private moments, most of their secrets are shared. It doesn't hurt that he keeps this from her because she knows Peter and she knows he has his pride. In daylight he doesn't struggle with this, she'd see that, but in the darkness maybe he still worries that he's weak, that this little piece of metal will still get the best of him.

She doesn't ache that he won't tell her; she just aches for him. This is something he can't share, not with her, not with Neal. Of all the things he could have kept from her -- the dangerous parts of his job, all his little insecurities...when they'd been dating for a few months he'd been visibly terrified to explain to her that his last long-term relationship had been with a man, but he'd still told her. The night he crossed a line with Neal, he'd told her.

This is a small thing, but it's a new thing, and Peter doesn't really cope that well with change. Particularly when the change is his own body betraying him.

So when she wakes up sometimes because he's rolling out of the bed, or when she wakes up to find him gone, she waits for him to come back. It's never a very long wait. She mumbles enough to let him know she's awake and touches him, to remind him she's there and to reassure herself that he is, too.

She doesn't blame Neal for this. That would be stupid, and it would ruin something precious. But if Neal's there when Peter comes back, she's pleased just a little that she's the one Peter curls into, the one he seeks out.


Peter woke with his wrists and ankles bound, and he was getting really tired of being the one in cuffs.

His immediate reaction to the tight plastic wrapped around his wrists was that he couldn't, he could not panic; he was about to panic anyway, because it was hard to breathe, when he heard Neal's voice behind him.

"Peter? Alex?" Neal called.

"Here," Peter managed.

"Shit -- are you okay?"

"Yep, just having a moment," Peter replied. "I'll get over it. Everyone all right?"

"For the moment." Alex's voice. "Where are we?"

"Dry dock," Neal answered, voice low and worried.

"What are those guys doing?" Alex asked. Peter tried to swing around so that he could see what she was talking about, because if he was going to get shot in the head he at least wanted to look the sons of bitches in the eyes first, but then he saw water burst out of the drains around the dock, and he could put two and two together.

"Got a pretty good idea," Neal said, voicing Peter's thoughts.

"Adler's taking the whole arch-villain thing pretty seriously," Peter observed. Breathing was easier, but wouldn't be for long if they didn't get out of here.

"He always had a flair for the theatrical," Neal drawled. "Peter?"

"Yeah, what?" Peter snapped, trying to work the plastic ties down his wrists.

"You doing all right?"

"I'm fine," Peter said.

"He sounds annoyed," Alex murmured.

"Better annoyed than hyperventilating," Neal said.

"Why would a Fed be hyperventilating?"

"He has a thing about being tied up, he's not a fan."

"How do you know that?" Alex said, sounding intrigued.

"Tell the world, thank you," Peter snarled. "You two have anything useful to offer?"

"Where's the cavalry, Neal?" Alex asked.

"Moz'll be here," Neal said, but he didn't sound very confident.

"We need to find a way out of these zipties," Peter insisted.

"Don't look at me, you know me and zipties don't get along," Neal said.

"How does he know that?" Alex said gleefully.

"He arrested me, don't get pushy," Neal said. "Alex?"

"I've got a knife," she announced, and Peter wanted to kick her for not mentioning it sooner.

On the other hand, considering she had it down her cleavage and Neal was currently extracting it with his teeth, perhaps she'd been holding it as a last resort.

Peter started when he felt hands on his wrists -- Neal had cut through his own ties fast -- but a second later his bindings were falling away, and he pushed himself up in relief, one hand grasping Neal's arm and the other patting his shoulder in mute thanks. Neal cut his ankles free and then they both crawled through the rising water to Alex, Peter holding up her head and shoulders while Neal went to work on her bindings.

They were free, but under fire from the guards, when the cavalry finally did arrive. Diana's strident yelling had never sounded so good to Peter in his life.

He left Neal and Alex to catch their breath and went straight to Diana to thank her, but even as she was telling him that Mozzie had found their signal, he caught movement out of the corner of his eye and turned. Neal and Alex were in each others' arms, foreheads pressed together; even as Peter watched, Neal tilted his head and kissed her, not exactly a brotherly kiss. Not really even a thank-god-we're-alive kiss.

And beyond them, Sara Ellis was watching from where the surveillance van was parked.

They made quite a little tableau, the four of them; Peter wasn't sure he had the energy to be jealous, just then, but he felt a vague simmer of anger in the back of his mind, something he'd probably have to deal with later. Neal's whatever-it-was with Sara was difficult enough, but Neal and Alex had actual history, and Neal knew Alex's presence in his life annoyed Peter.

And Neal always had to be so damn impulsive.

Sara's eyes flicked to Peter, and he saw real hurt there. Neal, looking up as Alex pulled away, apparently saw it too; he tensed, and his eyes went wide.

Peter walked casually back to where Neal now stood alone.

"Come on, Casanova," he said drily. Neal turned to him, eyes still wide, guilt etched over his face. "Neal. This? Later. Now we have to find Adler."

"Right," Neal said, turning to look at where Sara had been standing a moment earlier. "Adler. Back to the office?"

"I hear they might have towels for us," Peter said, grasping Neal by one soaking wet arm.


Back when Sara had first taken on the case of the Raphael that Neal stole, the first time she worked with Peter, she'd developed a tiny little crush on him. He was good-looking and in retrospect he tolerantly put up with a lot from her, and he was funny and nice, not like the FBI agents she'd worked with in the past. He was also married, so it was harmless and kind of fun.

The first day of Neal's trial, she'd seen his wife bringing him a bag lunch; Elizabeth must have seen Sara buying her lunch from the food stand outside the courthouse, because the next day she brought Sara a lunch, too.

"You must be Sara Ellis," she'd said, offering her hand. "I'm Elizabeth, Peter's wife. I've heard a lot about you from Peter."

"I've heard a lot about you, too," Sara had said with a smile.

"I -- um, I brought you lunch," Elizabeth had offered, holding out a brown bag. "If you want it, anyway."

Sara had stammered a thank-you, surprised by the gesture, and accepted it; Elizabeth had packed her a sandwich, a bag of crackers, and a cookie. Peter apparently also got carrot sticks. For the rest of the trial, they stopped to talk a little every day, and both Elizabeth and Peter had been sympathetic when Neal was found innocent of stealing the Raphael. Peter had reminded her gently that he'd told her so, but Sara could understand why.

And she understood, now, why Elizabeth wanted both her and Neal to come to dinner -- to assuage the disappointment over not catching Adler. And, possibly, to heal the breach between her and Neal, because Peter told Elizabeth everything and would undoubtedly have mentioned to her that Neal was being the world's biggest asshole.

Still, she felt Elizabeth could have saved them the awkwardness. The Burkes, when their powers combined, were somewhat merciless in that regard.

The one fortunate thing about Neal was that he could talk bullshit with the best of them, and Elizabeth and Peter both had a vested interest in keeping the dinner conversation going, so between the three of them they managed to fill the silence. Sara could eat her (admittedly amazing) dinner in relative peace, cut occasionally by a stab of annoyance whenever Neal looked her way. She retreated to the couch with her wine-glass as soon as she could, while Neal and Peter were still pushing dessert around on their plates and Elizabeth was getting more wine.

"Long day for them," Elizabeth observed, joining her there, settling in comfortably. "I'm always amazed at how well people can bounce back from things like kidnapping and attempted murder."

Sara grinned at her. "I think they're more upset Adler got away."

"Not for long. Peter always gets 'em, sooner or later," Elizabeth replied. "Vincent Adler might be smart, but Peter has a read on him now. He'll find him."

She looked confident, but also fond -- like catching criminals was some quirky hobby of Peter's that she indulged because it kept him out of her hair.

"You and Peter are really happy, huh?" Sara asked. "Wife of an FBI agent...that's not easy, is it."

"Yeah, I would be lying if I said I didn't worry about him," Elizabeth admitted. "But I knew who he was when I fell in love with him."

"You never tried to change that?" Sara asked.

"No -- why would I? I mean...we're married. For better, for worse."

Sara smiled. "And now he's got Neal..."

"For better, for worse," Elizabeth laughed quietly. At the table, Neal was grinning at something Peter had said, body tucked elegantly into one of the chairs, looking completely unlike someone who'd been kidnapped -- had defused a bomb, uncovered a priceless cache of looted art, and gotten himself and two other people safely out of harm's way, all in less than twelve hours.

There was also something there, she thought -- in the way Neal looked at Peter, in the way Elizabeth talked about them both. Neal was comfortable here in their home, that shiny top con-man layer missing and a more subdued, realistic sort of man showing through underneath. She wondered if it was that this was the closest thing Neal had to a real home and real friends, or if it was just that he trusted the Burkes. And they trusted him -- Elizabeth seemed to think they could, anyway. Sara found herself trusting him at strange moments. But for all she knew, every second of this was a game to Neal, and he'd turn around and betray any of them as easy as breathing.

She wondered, a little, just how close Neal and Peter were. She'd seen Peter's expression at the dry dock as clearly as he'd seen hers. She wasn't sure if the concern and anger on his face had been on her behalf or from some aspect of his own friendship with Neal. She didn't have even the claim on him that Peter did, but she had asked him for the truth and he'd said it was over between him and Alex. And then -- knowing he'd lied, even if you could be charitable and assume it was to himself as well...

The thing was, Neal was in many ways like Peter: he was nice, which might be an act but she suspected usually wasn't, and he was incredibly smart, and very pretty. She knew it was probably a bad idea, but she'd never much been one to avoid something just because it might hurt down the line. It was what got her involved with all this in the first place.

And, as adventures went, Neal promised to be incredibly entertaining.

Which was what made her accept Neal's apology about Alex at face value -- that and the guilt clearly written on his face, because guilt was a hard emotion to fake and Neal didn't have a lot of experience with it. So she leaned in and kissed him, and he let her -- didn't take control, didn't try to push, just let her kiss him. Even after all he'd been through that day, he smelled pretty good: a hint of brackish water, but also cologne and turpentine, and lemon from dinner.

"You owe me a lunch," she told him, and Neal gave her the smallest hint of a smile, a real smile.


"You want to stay tonight?" Peter had asked him, after Sara left that evening. Neal had considered it, because the question now carried a new layer on top of it: did he want to stay, and did he feel okay staying after having patched things up with Sara.

"I'm tired," Neal said, honestly. "And you could use a night in with Elizabeth, I think."

"Door's always open," Peter said.

"Which is why I'm okay not opening it tonight," Neal answered, smiling. "You okay?"

"Yeah. It's a good idea, anyway. We're up early tomorrow, we'll figure out what to make of the intel they're working on, and we'll decide what to do from there. Get some rest," Peter told him, and clapped Neal on the shoulder.

Neal turned and kissed the corner of Peter's mouth, surprising them both. "I will."

Now, a good night's sleep away from that moment, he stood on the docks, in the circle of FBI agents and SWAT ops loaned to them by Shattuck with a quick call from Peter that morning. He wondered, idly, probably inappropriately, if he could do what Mike did -- find someone, settle down, be Peter's friend and co-worker. He'd never ask Mike directly about it; all the subtle hints and cues pointed to the fact that Mike liked his privacy and didn't want to talk about past loves or current ones. But however the op went today, maybe tonight he could call him up or stop by Enright's and see if Mike or Deke or Sergeant Calhoun was around.

"Adler's not getting away, Neal," Peter said, snapping him out of his thoughts. "I won't let him."

He must have seen Neal didn't have his head fully in the game. It might not be an actual rebuke, but it was close enough, and Neal set aside his other thoughts for now.

"I know," Neal said, and let Peter go do his job.


They heard the explosions before they saw the plume of smoke, and for a second it almost didn't register. But Peter knew from long experience that if something was blowing up, that was where Neal would be.

He outpaced the SWAT easily; Jones and Diana kept up, but when they reached the edge of the building he signaled them to hang back. If Adler was there, Peter wanted him personally, and if it was just Neal, he didn't want them or the SWAT guys firing on an innocent man.

He could hear Neal's voice, raised in protest, but not what he was saying; still, it told him all he needed to know. He glanced around the corner as another explosion rocked the walls of the building and saw two men on the ground, two on their feet.

"I got Neal on our three, Adler's facing him, back to us," he hissed to Jones. "Send Diana around the other side. Cover me. Do not follow until I give the signal."

Jones nodded curtly and turned to Diana; Peter edged around the corner, trying to keep an eye on the men on the ground -- Adler's men -- and gauge how close Adler was to shooting Neal.

" -- you know that," he heard Neal say, and saw the urgency in his eyes. Neal wasn't going to look away from Adler, and not from Adler's gun, that was for sure. Peter edged further out into the unprotected yard, watching, waiting.

"You won't get away with this," Adler said. A hundred options ran through Peter's head at once; whether Neal and Adler had been in on it and Neal had double-crossed Adler, whether Adler thought Neal had set off the bombs, whether Neal had set off the bombs...

No. Neal wouldn't destroy all that art. Something was amiss, here, but it wasn't the explosion.

"Goodbye, Neal," Adler added, and Peter fired before he even had time to think about it. It was like a flashback to when he'd shot Carruthers; Neal was in danger, and it was Peter's job to protect him.

Except this time Adler didn't get his shot in before Peter did.

Adler crumpled to the ground and for the first time Neal looked away from him, startled eyes finding Peter in the smoke and dust-haze. Alarms still going off in his head that something was intangibly wrong about this, Peter moved forward on autopilot to kick the gun out of Adler's limp hand.

He was aware of Diana rushing the others from the opposite side, of Jones coming in behind him and the SWAT guys securing the area, but those were background noise. All he could really concentrate on were two things: the fact that he had killed Vincent Adler, that Adler was dead and Peter had done that, and the fact that for the first time in his life, he had absolutely no regrets. He'd shot people before, he'd killed people before; he'd killed Carruthers for shooting Neal, and he wasn't guilty about it but he'd regretted it all the same. He never liked to take a life. But the body lying between him and Neal, that was just a body. He supposed he should be grateful he didn't feel exultant. Just...satisfied.

He'd wanted to kill Adler, and he'd done it.

He could almost understand that third bullet Neal had put in his gun, now, because the world seemed momentarily different, dark and frightening. He didn't care that he'd taken a life. Before, at least, he'd always cared.

"He would have killed me," Neal said, still looking stunned, though whether that was at Adler's actions or his sudden fall, Peter couldn't tell.

"What did he mean, you won't get away with this?" Peter asked, trying to ground himself in the moment, trying to claw his way back to reality. Adler had held Neal at gunpoint. The shooting was justified. An op was in danger. His friend was in danger.

"I don't know," Neal said, and he seemed to mean it.

Peter swallowed, tasting smoke. "Glad you're all right," he managed.

Diana and Jones came to take Neal back to the van, then: Jones with the same careful attention he'd give to a trauma survivor, Diana with a look at Peter to make sure he didn't need a hand too. Peter shook his head, so she began walking Neal away with Jones --

And then a little piece of debris, not bigger than a postcard, hissed through the air past him. He became aware that he shouldn't be this close to the fire, that debris had been tumbling around them for some time, but this one caught his eye. It was bright blue where it wasn't edged by flame, a series of art-deco arches in a familiar configuration, a familiar style. The painting Neal had been working on that had led to their fight, the one Peter had teased him was being made for Sara. Which could only be here if Neal had put it here, or someone had put it here under his instruction.

Which was why Neal had found the warehouse so quickly. And what Adler had meant when he'd told Neal he wouldn't get away with it.

That was what was wrong.

And he'd shot Adler because of it.

Then he did feel something about the shooting: fury.


Interlude: Florence Syndrome

The art burned.

Ultimately, nothing else matters right now. The fact that Vincent Adler is dead by Peter's hand and not Neal's own; whatever Peter saw that made him think Neal did that -- the idea that Peter could think him capable of...of what, burning the art himself? Peter's anger and suspicion, none of it matters. Not for more than a minute, because the art is gone. Neal has a very solid sense of self-importance, but that art is a cultural treasure. You can find a guy fucking his boss in any building in New York. His relationship with Peter is not more important than Self-Portrait As A Boy.

It's stupid, though, stupid that he cares. Until a week ago that art was presumed lost forever. Given enough time, the ocean would have reclaimed the sub and the art would have rotted, become fish food or floated in flakes to the surface. The gold might have survived, but it might never have been found. But Neal saw it, touched it, and now it's gone, and that hurts, the loss, the beauty --

It's over. Kate's murderer is dead, but that's just a hollow feeling, Peter was right about that. He can't even touch it, because he's mourning the Self-Portrait and all the others lost. Forever. Burned.

So when he finds the key on his dining-room table he doesn't even let himself think about the art, doesn't let himself hope. But when he walks into the storage room in the warehouse, there it is, all of it: the gold. The jewels.

And those are just afterthoughts to the art.

He just stands there for a moment and lets the feeling suffuse him. It's not greed, it's not desire, it's joy. For perhaps the first time in years he feels pure, unadulterated joy, because the art is safe. All of it.

He's tired and sore, he has burns and scrapes on his hands and his shirt is scorched and filthy. But there is a pair of white cotton gloves sitting on a crate, like they were put there for him (they were, whoever took this left these gloves here for him, oh God) and he puts them on and carefully, carefully begins to sift through this treasure.

Painting after painting, crate after crate. Some are familiar to him from books or even just legends; some are alien, unknown, but Neal can trace their lineage, can name their painters, can touch all of them. A sweep of a gloved thumb across a corner, just to say he had. Adler is dead and all of this art has been given to him and it's so beautiful.

He's startled to find he's crying. Kate is dead and her killer is dead and the art wasn't burned after all, it's here. He's crouched on the floor of the storage unit, staring at a Cranach and crying. His hands are shaking.

There's something in the edge of his vision, flitting away when he tries to look directly at it. He wonders if he's having a full-on nervous breakdown.

"Hello, my dear."

Kate's voice. Neal lifts his face, wiping it with the back of the glove. She's there, standing over him, looking down. She's wearing the same clothes she was the last time he saw her as a free man, that day in the storage unit, another storage unit far from here. He's so startled he falls on his ass, sprawling, but pushes himself up to look at her, to drink her in.

"How's it going, babe?" she asks, and smiles, but Kate never spoke that way. She sounds like Elizabeth, Elizabeth speaking in Kate's voice.

"You're dead," he says stupidly.

"I don't feel dead," she answers, still standing, looking down, face impassive. "Isn't it nice? All of this? Someone must like you very much."

Now she sounds like Alex. Neal presses the heels of his hands to his eyes, stars dancing against his eyelids. When he opens them she's gone, but there's something warm against his arm.

"You're pretty messed up," Peter says.

Peter's not like Kate; he's sitting next to Neal, knees drawn up, arms resting casually on them. He has a string of pearls in one hand.

"Kate's dead," Neal tells him. Peter nods, rolling the pearls over his fingers. Peter would never do that; he's not so easily impressed by mere things. And he's contaminating evidence. Peter wouldn't do that.

"Yes, she is," Peter agrees. "But then I'm not really here either, am I?"

"You feel real," Neal says.

"Are you going to tell me about this?" Peter asks, gesturing with one hand, sweeping broadly to take in the treasure. God, there's a fucking chandelier in one corner.

"Don't," a voice says sharply. Kate's back. Neal tries to breathe, mostly succeeds. "Don't tell him, Neal, it doesn't belong to him."

"It doesn't belong to you, either," Peter says to her.

"You're the reason I'm -- "

"Stop, please," Neal begs, covering his ears with his hands. When he lowers them again, there's silence, but Peter's still warm against him, Kate's still looking down.

"Vincent's dead," he tells Kate. "And I'm sorry, but you are too. You can't be here."

Kate crouches, and when her hand touches his chin, it's warm. "See you around, Neal."

"I love you," Neal tells her, and closes his eyes.

She's gone when he opens them, but Peter isn't.

"So?" Peter prompts. "What do we do with all this, Neal?"

"It's over," Neal says. Peter regards him, impassive. "Kate's dead. Vincent's dead, you know that, you shot him. The art's safe."

"For now."

"Why can't I stop shaking?"

Peter lifts one arm around Neal's shoulders and Neal leans into him. He feels real, is the thing.

"You were good," Peter says. "You were so good, Neal. Shh. It's okay. You were good."

It's what he wants to hear from Peter -- the real Peter -- so very badly. Neal presses his face into Peter's shoulder, even though Peter's not really there, and cries himself into exhaustion.

He wakes later -- minutes, hours, hell, for all he knows, days later -- curled on his side with his cheek against the cold cement, a string of pearls looped over his fingers.

He once saw a man collapse in the middle of the Sistine Chapel, a college student on exchange from America. There's a -- disease? a condition? -- he's seen it, where people exposed to so much beautiful art become overwhelmed. They shake, and can't breathe, and they hallucinate. He's never experienced it himself, until now, and waking up alone with the memory of Kate's ghost and Peter's avatar makes his skin crawl.

He tries not to look at the paintings as he racks them carefully back into their crates. He'll do an inventory later. For now, it's enough that they're safe.

Neal Caffrey is no fool. He knows the imaginary Peter's question is the question. Neal is free of Adler, free of the duty to avenge Kate. He doesn't need the FBI anymore, except to keep him out of prison, and he can do that for himself with this kind of resource. Peter doesn't trust him enough to believe he wouldn't burn all this to the ground out of vengeance. (Maybe Peter's right not to trust him.)

So that's what he has to decide.

Are you going to tell Peter?


...for now...
melayneseahawk: (keep typing)

[personal profile] melayneseahawk 2011-05-25 02:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Yipe! You're even worse than the show's cliffhanger!
micheleeeex: ([wc] burke's crew;;)

[personal profile] micheleeeex 2011-05-25 03:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Amazing :DDDDDDD

[identity profile] 2011-05-25 03:54 pm (UTC)(link)
Brilliant! I love your characters, especially 18 kinds of crazy Neal.
ecaterin: Harry Dresden doing yoga, looks concerned.  text: yoga: bad for wizard health (bad for wizard health)

[personal profile] ecaterin 2011-05-25 06:13 pm (UTC)(link)

Dammit, I'm not even watching this show! And I've had enough of all my favorite shows cliffhangering me for the summer! Arrrrrgh!

*fist shake* Starrrrrbuuuuuuck!!!!

(no subject)

[personal profile] ecaterin - 2011-05-26 03:22 (UTC) - Expand

(Anonymous) 2011-05-25 06:21 pm (UTC)(link)
Great chapter! I loved how you handled the whole Sara issue and I'm really curious to see how this will turn out. also, Neal's line about bases was hysterical.
But my favorite was:
Sara wasn't sure what she'd been expecting when she knocked on Neal's door for their lunch date. Last time, he'd come to the door half-naked. A girl could dream. :D

meret: (mooninpurplesky)

[personal profile] meret 2011-05-25 09:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Guilty conscience doughnuts? Did they come from his bakery or do they only do cakes?

"I thought, well, okay, I'll try this honesty thing.

Yay, Neal! :)

Neal nodded, but he looked almost hurt.

Did Neal want them to be jealous and angry about it as some sort of validation of his importance to them? And if so does he know he wanted that?

I loved the talk between Neal and Peter. You did a great job of working with the Sara story line.

Neal would never, in a million years, admit to anyone that when they pulled the front off the first crate and found a van Dyck inside, he got a little hard.


Smarter than I am, smarter than anyone I've ever met.

This surprised me since Peter caught Neal. Plus I would have thought he would have said El was the smartest person he'd ever met for some reason. Maybe because of his "best agent" comment in Burke's 7.

I've gotten goose bumps because something is so beautiful before, but I'd never heard of Florence Syndrome. Cool! :)

Terrific writing, as usual! :)

(no subject)

[personal profile] meret - 2011-05-25 22:24 (UTC) - Expand

sudden thought = worried

[personal profile] meret - 2011-05-25 22:51 (UTC) - Expand

(Anonymous) 2011-05-25 09:32 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh my goodness, this is brilliant.
tree00faery: (Default)

[personal profile] tree00faery 2011-05-26 01:38 am (UTC)(link)

THIS IS SO GOOD. OMGOMG How can I possibly wait for both more White Collar and more of this completely exquisite (yeah, I bet you never get that comment) fic?!?!
changeling: (Default)

[personal profile] changeling 2011-05-26 03:44 am (UTC)(link)

I love your take on these characters, as always.

I'd also never heard of Stendhal's/Florence syndrome. Yay, learning!

I can't wait until the next season starts.
whoaitslaur: (Default)

[personal profile] whoaitslaur 2011-05-26 05:39 am (UTC)(link)
OhGawdICan'TWaitForNextSeanson! Do I mean the show or this series? I don't even know! They're becoming sort of indistinguishable in my head.

[identity profile] 2011-05-26 08:23 am (UTC)(link)
I had only seen two episodes of White Collar when I gave in and started reading Exquisite. I think I managed to watch both seasons in less than two weeks. ALL YOUR FAULT.

I was re-reading Exquisite again, (I'd gone through all the Peter/El/Neal fic tagged at AO3) and I started chapter fourteen thinking 'Oh, this is all there is, what will I read next?' AND THERE WAS MORE! It's one am now, but I don't care!

-Siobhan (Hi, I lurk here and over at the cafe)

[personal profile] weesaw 2011-05-27 02:21 pm (UTC)(link)
gaaaah, i don't know if i've left comments on the rest of this, but i really love this story, sam. you get their voices so perfect that even after repeated viewings of the show i have trouble remembering what's canon and what's only in your story.
annemjw: (Default)

[personal profile] annemjw 2011-05-29 06:37 am (UTC)(link)
And now I am so so excited to see season 3, because it means I really get two great pieces of fiction to enjoy! Pitch-perfect as always, thank you.
derien: It's a cup of tea and a white mouse.  The mouse is offering to buy Arthur's brain and replace it with a simple computer. (Default)

[personal profile] derien 2011-05-31 12:30 am (UTC)(link)
Okay, I like this story as you did it, and frankly I'm pretty delighted with your portrayal of the triad, where Peter and Elizabeth are trying to convince Neal that he doesn't have to be faithful, but Peter isn't dealing well, anyway, even if he does think that's the best thing for Neal.

But oh... I've got to say I'm REALLY glad I'm not watching this show. I mean, it does leave some holes for me, because you're writing for people who are, but the show writers are fucking idiots, imho. Their season/multiple season arcs are way to complicated, and Neal is way to fucked up. I lost patience with him after he bought the gun, and ranted to my sweetheart that I couldn't stay interested in someone that absolutely dumb. Can you tell I don't put up with dramatics in my personal life? ;)

(Anonymous) 2011-06-04 07:01 pm (UTC)(link)
words fail to express the magnitude of the amount of awe i have for you.
the way that you've so carefully woven every episode and the Clive story all into a beautiful tapestry... I love you.
this is an amazing work.
I can not wait for season three of white collar; now more than ever.
Please, keep them coming!
sugakane_01: (Default)

[personal profile] sugakane_01 2011-06-06 11:11 am (UTC)(link)
I have sat here and read this entire thing from the beginning and its a thing of utter and complete brilliance. I am in absolute awe of your skill as a writer and beyond thankful that I found your story (and that the new season starts tomorrow so hopefully I won't have to wait too long for another installment) and this has to be one of the best fanfics I've ever read.

Awesome fic!

(Anonymous) 2011-06-08 08:33 pm (UTC)(link)
Had a minor meltdown last night when my cablebox wasn't working so I missed the first showing of "On Guard," but luckily I caught the second! Now I'm checking obsessively for chapter 21 of Exquisite. Love this fic. My only (tiny) complaint is that you have Neal saying "Jesus" and "Christ" a lot - and that just strikes me as OOC.
droolfangrrl: (Default)

[personal profile] droolfangrrl 2011-06-13 06:56 pm (UTC)(link)
I got nothing. Thanks for sharing, you fit your fanon in and around the canon wonderfully well.
syredronning: (ksmc_divine)

[personal profile] syredronning 2011-07-30 10:18 am (UTC)(link)
I'm new to White Collar fandom, and wherever I looked this story was recommended... and for damn good reasons, this is an AWESOME read.

I love it how you use the episodes to spin your own version of the three, so very fitting in manners, actions, dialogues... just perfect. This is an absolute keeper.

I hope you'll start writing in season 3 soon, I'm dying to find out what you'll do with them :) Thank you so much for this series.
polarisnorth: a silhouetted figure sitting on the moon, watching the earthrise (Default)

[personal profile] polarisnorth 2011-08-15 04:00 am (UTC)(link)
Oh god. I spent most of today reading this for the first time, and it was amazing, and it ended there. *flails over everything* Are you still planning to continue?

(no subject)

[personal profile] polarisnorth - 2011-08-15 12:59 (UTC) - Expand
nataliagag: (Default)

[personal profile] nataliagag 2011-09-21 07:43 pm (UTC)(link)
This is so fantastic, I don't even have words...
And the 3rd season is so fuc*ed up, that I don't even know if I wish for you to remain cannon accurate.
Anyway, brilliant work!
daroos: (Default)

[personal profile] daroos 2011-11-25 04:36 am (UTC)(link)
First off: "My grandfather was a carnie during the Depression" I laughed.

Secondly, OH My GOD this is amazing. How this weaves into the story so effortlessly is just... *tearing at hair and hand waving* I have no words!

Really, really enjoyed it. Really, really curious to see where it goes in the future.

(Anonymous) 2011-12-29 05:08 pm (UTC)(link)
Absolutely delicious. I hope there will be more to follow the further seasons.
nyxelestia: Rose Icon (Default)

[personal profile] nyxelestia 2012-01-06 08:41 pm (UTC)(link)
Just read all this in one go, and it's absolutely brilliant. I love the way you explore the mental and emotional side of Neal and Peter's D/s dynamic (my favorite part, to be honest), and the way you balance it with the canon events of the show.

...that said, your cliffie is still evil. I look forward to seeing more of this series, if you do intend to continue it. :D
bottledminx: (Default)

[personal profile] bottledminx 2012-01-27 02:21 am (UTC)(link)
Read straight through them all. You're brilliant. You create worlds and people who feel like people. I am completely in love.

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