Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Peter Burke, Neal Caffrey, Elizabeth Burke, Pre-Peter/Neal
Word Count: 1,424
Summary: What happened when Elizabeth asked the question
A/N: Answer to elrhiarhodan’s prompt of “Taking an unfamiliar road” for run_the_con
The summer night was peaceful. A full moon cast shadows across the back yard, crickets chirped a counterpoint to the occasional whoosh of passing cars, and the scent of honeysuckle wafted in from the neighbor’s garden.
Peter Burke noticed none of that. Sitting on their deck, he was on his fourth beer, trying to wrap his head around the question Elizabeth had asked after dinner. Even in his slightly inebriated haze, he had no clue where to begin. Contextually, it was a simple question. The answer, however, was far from simple.
“When are you going to tell Neal that you love him?”
Her words had reverberated throughout him. He’d stared at her, sitting calmly at their dining room table, a mug of tea in her hand.
“What?” he’d sputtered, dinner dishes forgotten.
“When are you going to tell Neal that you love him?” she’d repeated.
“I don’t….wait….where did you get that idea?”
"Oh, hon, I’ve known for a while.”
“Known what? There’s nothing to know. No knowing going on.” Peter had run his hand through his hair. He hadn’t liked where this conversation was going. Elizabeth was touching on things that Peter, for his own sanity, preferred to pretend didn’t exist.
“That you love Neal.”
Peter had felt her eyes on him. Flushing, he’d busied himself with clearing the rest of the dinner dishes.
“It’s in your eyes. How you look at him when you think no one’s watching,” Elizabeth had said quietly. “It’s the same way you look at me.”
Peter felt like he’d been punched in the gut. “I am not having this conversation,” he’d said.
“Peter, it’s ok.”
‘Ok? My wife is telling me that she thinks I’m in love with someone else. Who happens to be my CI, and who also just happens to be a man. How is that ok?” Peter had laughed hollowly.
“Because it’s Neal,” Elizabeth had replied, like that was supposed to explain everything.
“Because it’s Neal,” Peter had repeated. “No, this is not happening.”
“I need a beer,” he’d growled, interrupting her. He’d stalked to the fridge and grabbed the six-pack on the top shelf. Without a further word, he’d headed to the back deck, shutting the door with a little more force than was probably necessary.
Which explained why he was sitting alone in the dark, considering their conversation. He had no right to talk to Elizabeth that way. She hadn’t said anything that, in the secret places of his heart and mind, he knew wasn’t true. Somewhere along the way he’d fallen in love with Neal Caffrey.
This was a road he’d never foreseen when he was chasing Neal for all those years. There was no real way to pinpoint when he’d first set foot on that path. He just knew that he was drawn to Neal; a touch of a hand on his shoulder, his brilliant mind, his almost alien physical beauty. Peter couldn’t help but follow Neal’s Siren song, its subtle threads wrapping around him until he couldn’t determine where Peter Burke ended and Neal Caffrey began.
And now his conversation with Elizabeth brought it all to the surface. Like one of his FBI files, laid out in black and white, with all the damning evidence available for anyone to see. Peter sighed and took another swig of his beer. He knew he had to do something; he just had no clue in which direction to go.
A short time later Elizabeth came out to sit next to him on the lounge chair. She wrapped Peter’s arms around her and settled herself against his warmth. For a while they sat in silence. Peter knew she was waiting for him to speak, and he was well aware that he owed her an apology. Sighing, he rested his chin on her head.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you like that.”
“I know you didn’t mean it, hon,” she said. “The truth is hard sometimes.”
“I’m scared El,” he confessed.
“Of what?” she asked.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted. “I don’t know if I’m afraid that he’ll turn me down or that he’ll take me seriously. This is all new to me.” Peter shifted so he could look at her. “It was a lot easier with you.”
Elizabeth giggled “That’s because I gave you a road map.” She leaned up to kiss him. “This time it’s not going to be as easy. You’re going to have to navigate this one all by yourself.”
“But what if it backfires?” Peter didn’t even want to think about what kind of disaster that would be.
“That’s a risk you’re going to have to take, Peter, if you really want this,” Elizabeth told him.
“I know,” Peter sighed. “God, El, I just wish there was a simple answer.”
“There is,” she replied.
“There is, huh?” Peter quirked an eyebrow at her.
“Yes,” she said in a matter of fact tone.
“And what is it, Ms. Certainty?”
“Do you love him?”
Peter searched her face for jealousy, anger, hurt; any indication of how his reply would affect her. All he saw was the woman he loved, confident and secure and in his arms. Somehow it centered him. They both knew what the answer was, but until this moment it had always been kept hidden. “Yes,” he whispered, the words, the reality, finally out in the open. “With all my heart.”
“Then that’s your answer.” Elizabeth held out her hand and opened her fingers. Nestled in between them were the keys to the Taurus. “I love you, Peter Burke. Never forget that.” She smiled and kissed him again. “You’ve captured Neal physically twice before. Now go capture his heart.”
The trip to June’s was interesting. Peter turned the Taurus around to go home no less than three times. When he called Elizabeth, she threatened to lock him out of the house until he talked with Neal. Finally, he found himself parked in front of the mansion.
Ok, Burke, It’s now or never. He got out of the car and walked slowly to June’s door. Letting himself in, he quietly climbed the stairs to Neal’s apartment. Standing in the hallway, he almost lost his nerve.
Telling himself to cowboy up, Peter took a deep breath and knocked on Neal’s door. There was no answer. Cursing himself for a fool, Peter turned to leave. He’d only gone a few steps when he heard the door open. Neal stood in the doorway, clothes rumpled and his hair tousled where he’d run his hands through it. Peter thought he was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
“Peter?” he said, voice roughened with sleep. “It’s late. Are you ok?”
“Yeah…I…” Peter faltered, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck. “I just needed…” He trailed off.
“Needed what?” Neal asked after the silence threatened to become uncomfortable.
You. Us. Together. Looking at Neal, Peter couldn’t form the words. Couldn’t bear the possibility that Neal wouldn’t, didn’t feel the same way he did.
“Nothing….nothing. I’m sorry I woke you.” Peter knew that everything he was feeling, all the bottled up emotions he’d been dealing with these many months, were written all over his face. He turned to go; praying that Neal wasn’t alert enough read him, knowing that wish was futile.
“Peter,” he heard softly. He felt Neal reach out, taking his hand to stop him from leaving. When their fingers touched, Peter’s breath hitched. He turned toward Neal and instinctively licked his lips, looking from their intertwined hands up to Neal’s face. What he saw took the rest of his breath away.
Neal’s face was radiant, his expression joyous like he had found the ultimate treasure. Gently he tugged Peter towards him into the apartment. Peter let himself be led, not sure of the steps, but committed to the dance. Still holding his hand, Neal moved into Peter’s space like he had done countless times before. This time, however, he didn’t stop, bringing his other hand up to caress Peter’s face.
Slowly Neal leaned in and captured Peter’s lips with his own. He tasted like mouthwash and Chapstick and something that was quintessentially Neal and Peter never wanted it to stop. He wasn’t even aware that he was moaning until he felt Neal chuckle against his mouth. They broke apart, each one gasping a bit as they pressed their foreheads together.
Peter began to speak, but Neal placed two fingers to Peter’s lips, shushing him. With a smile full of promise, Neal leaned past Peter and softly closed the door.