Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Peter/Neal (Implied Elizabeth), Peter/OMC
Warnings/Enticements/Triggers: Some sexual situations
Word Count: ~4,000
Beta Credit: embroiderama and elrhiarhodan
Summary: When Peter opens a box of mementos from his college years, it takes him back to a chapter in his life he'd rather forget.
A/N: Written for Peter Whump Day.
It doesn't get any better than this, Peter thought as he sipped his beer and listened to the thunder of the approaching storm.
The Yankees were beating up on the Twins, Elizabeth was puttering around the house, and he had Neal curled up on the couch next to him.
He looked over at his lover and couldn't help but grin. Neal was dressed casually - well, as casually as Neal would allow himself to get – in a soft purple button down and grey linen pants. His only concession to true relaxation was his bare feet, which were currently tucked underneath Peter's thigh.
His hair was mussed where he'd run his hands through it and he was bouncing slightly to the music flowing through his ear buds. He had a pencil behind his ear and his tongue was stuck out slightly as he concentrated on whatever masterpiece he was creating. He looked twelve years old and Peter adored him for it.
“Hon, what do you want to do with this box of stuff from college?” Elizabeth called down from the steps. “We need the space for Neal’s art supplies.” She came down the stairs holding a medium sized brown box with Peter’s college stuff written on the side.
“Bring it over here and I’ll go through it. I’m sure there’s stuff I can pitch.” Peter set his beer down and took the box from his wife. He hitched his hip up to get his pocket knife. As he sliced the packing tape, his movements jostled Neal.
Pulling his ear buds off, he leaned in to watch Peter open the flaps of the box.
“What’s in there?”
“Nothing of interest to you, magpie.” Peter closed the flips and looked at him out of the corner of his eye.
“Oh come on. Now you’ve piqued my interest. Let me see.” He flipped his legs so he was sitting next to Peter and made a grab for the box. Peter quickly tugged the box out of his reach and watched Neal pout.
“It’s only Peter’s old college stuff, hon.” Taking a seat in one of the chairs, Elizabeth grinned at the two of them. “There are no government secrets in there or anything.”
“And it’s not like I won’t go snooping for it later,” Neal pointed out. “So you might as well share the stuff with me now.”
“Okay.” Peter conceded to the fact that Neal would go searching. “But no making fun of the haircuts and fashion or I’ll make you write Diana’s reports for a month.”
Neal put on his innocent face and raised his hand. “I swear, no audible comments.”
Peter just glared at him. Flipping open the flaps, he looked at his college memories. Inside the box was a hodgepodge of items – ticket stubs to concerts, notes, an address book, and pictures.
Neal picked up one of the ticket stubs and started to laugh. “Oh my god! You saw Culture Club in concert? Peter! I’m embarrassed to say I know you.”
“Give me that!” Peter swiped the ticket and tossed it back in the box. “Student Activities was handing them out and we had nothing better to do that night and they were popular at the time. Besides, the next month we went to see The Who.” He held up two ticket stubs.
“Wow! Front row seats?” Neal whistled in appreciation. “Did you camp out for those?”
“You know it.” Peter smiled at the memory. “Forty-eight hours in the rain. But we were first in line. And it was worth it. One of the best shows I ever saw.” He put the tickets off to the side and dug further into box.
“See, I wasn’t just a Math guy –,” Neal interrupted with a coughed mathlete “ - a MATH guy. I went to plays and stuff.” He held up a program. “The Lion in Winter.”
“Can I see that?” Peter handed Neal the program. Neal scanned it and chuckled. He held it up to Elizabeth. “Notice the comments? You saw this for English class didn’t you.”
“Humanities. Doesn’t matter. I still saw it. It was a good play. I really liked Richard.” He motioned for Neal to hand it over. When he did, a photograph fell out of the back of the program. Neal picked it up before Peter had a chance to grab it.
“Who’s this?” Neal looked at Peter curiously.
“Just a friend. Give it back.” Peter reached for the photo, but Neal evaded him and turned it over to read the writing on the back. Peter didn’t need to see the picture at all to know what was written on the back.
He plucked the picture out of Neal’s fingers and threw it back in the box. Folding the flaps closed, he stood up and headed towards the stairs, taking the carton with him.
“I’ll go find a place for this.” His steps grew quieter as he disappeared.
There was silence, then Neal turned to Elizabeth. “What just happened?”
“Peter just happened.” Elizabeth stood and picked up the beer bottle Peter had left. She headed to the kitchen, turning out lights as she went.
“Did I say something wrong?” Worried, Neal trailed after her.
“No, sweetie.” She threw the bottle in the recycle bin and turned back to Neal. “He’s just remembering. It’s hard for him sometimes.”
“Remembering what?” Neal leaned against the counter. “Who was the guy in the photo?”
“I’m afraid that’s not my story to tell.” Elizabeth opened the cupboard and took down two mugs. Pouring coffee into each, she handed them to Neal. “But he might tell you. Just promise me you’ll be gentle when you ask.” She leaned in and softly kissed him. “Go. I think Peter might need some coffee.”
Neal wasn’t sure what he would discover as he made his way upstairs. Thoughts were whirling through his head.
Peter wasn’t in any of the rooms on the second floor, so Neal headed up one more flight, trying hard not to spill the coffee he had in his hands. He found Peter in the spare room they were converting into an art studio. Right now, the only thing in there was a ladder and supplies to repaint the room.
Peter was sitting on the floor, his back against the wall, the box open next to him. The photo was in his hand and Neal watched his thumb slowly caress the image.
Neal’s heart ached to look at him. Peter looked small, broken. Not at all like Neal’s Peter Burke. Neal’s Peter Burke was larger than life. From the first day Neal brazenly approached him and handed him a green sucker, through the chase, the captures, the anklet, the treasure, the midnight confession, the morning after - Peter filled the room, filled Neal’s world.
This man sitting on the floor in front of him didn’t fill the room. He barely even filled a corner.
Neal must have made a noise, because Peter looked up from the photo. “I’m assuming my wife sent you upstairs to find me.” He smiled a tight smile.
“She thought you might want some coffee.” Neal held out one of the mugs.
Peter took the cup and sipped at the hot drink. The silence stretched out between the two men.
“Peter – ,” Neal began.
Setting his mug down, Peter gestured to the floor. “You might as well sit. This may take a while.” His breath hitched as he sighed.
Neal sat down cross-legged in front of Peter and watched him as he stared at the picture for a moment. Peter took a deep breath and handed him the photo.
Neal hadn’t been able to get more than a glimpse of the photo earlier before Peter had grabbed it away, so he took his time studying it. It was a picture of a young Peter and a handsome man with thick brown hair and deep blue eyes. Obviously taken at a local watering hole, they had their arms around each other’s shoulders and both had a beer in front of them. Peter had a grin a mile wide and the other man was making a goofy face. Neal turned it over.
To my partner in crime. Love you always, Daniel was written in sloppy handwriting on the back.
“He was my first boyfriend.” Peter said the words simply, but Neal knew him well enough to hear a tone in his voice that Peter didn’t normally use. “It didn’t end well.”
“How old were you?” Neal handed the photo back.
“Nineteen.” Peter didn’t say any more and Neal thought that was going to be the end of it until Peter began speaking in a low voice.
“It was spring semester. I was a sophomore at Harvard and he was my TF….”
“Hey Burke, wait up!” Peter heard a familiar voice calling his name. He turned to see Daniel, his Teaching Fellow from Humanities class, hurrying to catch him.
“Hey Daniel.” Peter ducked his head, hoping that the other man wouldn’t see his face flush. Daniel was his first real crush on a guy since Peter realized he liked girls AND boys. Daniel was exactly Peter’s type – a leggy brunette with blue eyes.
“You’re headed to class early.” Daniel fell in step with Peter as they walked towards the classroom.
“Yeah, well, I had some notes I wanted to go over so I figured I’d grab a seat.” Actually, Peter had been hoping that Daniel would already be in the classroom so he could secretly stare at him. This was SO much better.
They chatted about the homework and the syllabus and Daniel gave Peter some pointers on where to look in the readings to get the most out of them.
Before Peter knew it, the other students had arrived and it was time to begin the section. Peter usually participated, but it seemed today that Daniel called on him a bit more often than usual. He tried not to read anything into it, but he kept sneaking glances at Daniel and finding him smiling at him. Soon the section was over and Peter began gathering his books to put in his backpack.
“Hey, Peter. I was wondering...” Peter felt Daniel grab his arm as the rest of the class headed out. “Do you have a class tonight?”
“Um, no. Why?” Peter knew he was blushing and there was nothing he could do about it. He must think I’m a dork.
“A bunch of us are going to Pinocchio’s for pizza and I thought you might like to come.” Daniel gave Peter a grin that almost made him forget his own name.
“Uh…yeah…sure.” Peter mentally calculated the ratio of time lost for studying versus an evening with Daniel and then figured, fuck it, his grades wouldn’t suffer from one night out.
“Great.” Daniel caressed his arm and Peter realized he’d never removed his hand. “It’s a date. Pick you up at seven?”
“Yeah, seven’s fine.” For a minute Peter just stood there, his mind reeling with Did Daniel just ask me out on a date?
“Uh Peter? I need your address if I’m going to pick you up.”
“Oh, sorry!” Peter grabbed a pen and ripped a piece of paper from his notebook. Scribbling his address down, he handed it to Daniel with a smile.
“Okay. See you at seven, Burke.” Daniel squeezed his arm and winked at him before walking out of the classroom.
Peter stood there for a minute before deciding that Humanities was his most favorite class EVER.
Neal chuckled, breaking Peter out of his thoughts.
“What’s so funny?” Peter took another drink of his coffee.
“I just can’t imagine Big Bad Peter Burke crushing on anyone, that’s all.” Neal stretched his back. “I’ve always seen you as a take-charge kind of guy.”
“I learned most of that in the FBI. In college I was a gawky kid who was a math major and played baseball. I had no clue what to do with my feelings in general, let alone my feelings for a man. Remember, back then being openly gay or bi was a lot harder than it is now.”
Peter swore he could hear the wheels turning in Neal’s head as he considered that.
“So what’d you do?”
“What’d you think I did? I freaked out and went home to pick out what shirt to wear.” Peter chuckled at the memory.
“You’re such a girl.”
“Says the man who takes two hours to pick out a tie.”
“Point taken. Continue.” Neal waved his hand in Peter’s direction.
“I was - I can’t even begin to describe how I felt.” Peter remembered that heady feeling.
“Like you’d just stolen the Mona Lisa from the Louvre?” Neal had a smile on his face a mile wide.
“Yeah…exactly like that…”
Daniel picked him up in a cherry red 1967 Mustang convertible. As they were driving, he popped in a cassette of classic rock and turned up the volume. “Baba O’Riley” blasted from the speakers as they sped down the road, weaving in and out of traffic.
“You’re going to wreck us!” Peter shouted. Daniel just laughed and flipped off the drivers who honked at them.
Pinocchio’s was crowded when they arrived. After a quick introduction of Daniel’s friends, the majority of whom were TF’s, Peter found himself in a booth squeezed between Daniel and a girl whose name he never did catch.
“What do you want on your pizza?” Daniel leaned in to talk in Peter’s ear. His breath on Peter’s neck made him shiver.
“Pepperoni? Really? Burke, let’s get creative. Yo, Tom. Toss me a menu.” Peter ducked as the flying pages almost clipped him. “Help me choose.” They settled on mushrooms, bacon and black olives. Daniel ordered them both a local beer that he swore was better than any national brand.
They ate and talked and drank and laughed. Someone took a picture and promised to get them copies. For the first time in a long while, Peter didn’t worry about grades or homework or baseball or scholarships. The evening sped by and before long it was after midnight and the place was closing.
“C’mon Peter, let’s jet before they convince us to go clubbing.” Daniel pulled him out of the booth and draped an arm around his shoulders. “We’ve got better things to do.”
“Yup.” They left the restaurant and headed to Daniel’s car. Peter was still buzzed from the alcohol and slightly off kilter so he found himself leaning into Daniel as they walked.
“So, where are we going?” Peter was hoping that maybe they would find an all night diner or coffee shop so he could spend more time with Daniel one on one.
“Actually, I was hoping you’d maybe want to come back to my place for a while.” Daniel unlocked the car. “You know, to get to know each other better?”
Peter couldn’t believe what he’d heard. “Uh, sure. I’d like that.”
“Good. Cause I like you. A lot. ” Peter found himself crowded against the car as Daniel closed the distance between them. Daniel’s lips slanted against his, and Peter thought he’d died and gone to heaven. It was better than he’d ever imagined. Better than kissing Mary Sue Kilpatrick on prom night. Better than making out with Bobby Martel last year behind the freshman dorms.
Peter moaned as Daniel wedged his thigh between Peter’s legs, rubbing his cock against him.
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
“So you went back to Daniel’s apartment.” Neal had stretched out on the floor while Peter was telling his story.
“Of course I did. I was nineteen, horny and overwhelmed. What else would I have done?” Peter rubbed the back of his neck.
“Don’t forget tipsy.”
“And thank you for pointing that out.”
They were silent for a while.
“Can I ask a personal question?” Neal’s voice was hesitant. Peter knew where he was going with his query.
“Yes, it was my first time with a man.”
“Were you scared?”
“No…it was different and exciting.” Peter tried to find the words. “Daniel became my mentor. It was more than just sex…”
”Do we have to get up?” Peter buried his face in the pillow. They’d been up till 3 a.m. drinking and talking. And of course, fucking. Peter ached in all the good places.
“Unfortunately sleeping in is not an option.” Peter watched Daniel pull on a pair of sweats. “I’ve got notes for Section to go over and you’ve got your paper to work on.”
“Yeah and my TF is a hardass.” Peter rolled over and grinned.
“Damn right he is. And if you don’t get your ass out of bed he’s going to dock you a grade just on principal.”
“You wouldn’t do that.”
In a flash, Peter found himself underneath the other man, his wrists trapped.
“Try me.” Daniel nuzzled his neck, biting and licking behind his ear. “Then again, you could work for extra credit.”
Peter gasped, letting the want take over. “Like this?” He arched up against Daniel, wrapping his legs around Daniel’s body.
“Just like that.” Daniel hissed. “I always knew you were a fast learner.”
“That’s because you’re an inspiring teacher.” Peter moaned as Daniel kissed him, ending any further attempts at conversation.
Their days fell into a pattern. Peter would come over to Daniel’s apartment after classes and baseball practice. He’d study and Daniel would cook. They’d watch movies and argue over the plot holes. Then Daniel would smile wickedly, grab Peter’s hand and drag him to the bedroom.
Daniel taught and Peter learned.
Daniel taught him about Aeschylus and Homer, and Peter learned that men kissed differently than women.
Daniel taught him about theatre and music, and Peter learned the thrill of feeling a man’s cock on his tongue.
Daniel taught him about Jung and Kant, and Peter learned the exquisite torture of a man’s weight pinning his body, thrusting into him as he came.
Peter was in love.
Then Daniel taught him about humiliation and betrayal, and Peter learned the art of locking his heart away.
“It all sounds perfect. What happened?” Neal knew this was going to be the hard part. The happy was always easy to talk about. The hurt never was.
Peter’s whole body tensed, like he was shying away from a blow. Considering the topic of conversation, Neal wasn’t surprised at his reaction.
“You don’t have to tell me – ” he began.
“No…no. I need to.” Peter closed his eyes and Neal could see him struggling. Neal put his hand, palm up, on Peter’s thigh. Peter took it, lacing their fingers together and Neal heard him take a deep breath. “Saying it out loud makes it sound like a dime store romance, but I walked in on a conversation I wasn’t supposed to hear…”
Peter was thrilled that it was Friday. His Chemistry professor had given them permission to leave after they had finished their quizzes, so he packed up and headed to Daniel’s office to see if he could take off early. They had plans to head up to someone’s cabin at the lake for the weekend and he could use the break from studying.
As he was going over his homework assignments in his head, he didn’t notice that Daniel’s office door was ajar until he heard his name mentioned, followed by derisive laughter.
Pausing in the hallway, he heard what sounded like Daniel and his office mate Josh having a conversation. About him.
“So, you bringing the boytoy this weekend?” Josh’s tone couldn’t be described as anything else but snarky. “What’s his name?”
“Peter. Yeah, Mandy said she couldn’t come up so I figured I’d invite him. At least he’s good for a laugh.”
“Yeah – you know how to pick them. Where’d he come from again?” Peter stood frozen as either Josh or Daniel opened a desk drawer.
“My Culture and Belief class. God, he was so easy. He’d been mooning over me since day one so I figured, why not?” The drawer shut and Peter heard the sound of an electric pencil sharpener. “I mean he’s cute and all, but seriously? You should have heard him give his opinion on Oedipus. My god, he sounded like an idiot.”
“You didn’t tell him that?” More laughter.
“What, and lose that piece of ass? Are you kidding? Guy fucks like a machine. Comes three, maybe four times when I’ve got my dick in him. Sucks cock like you wouldn’t believe. And he’ll do anything I want. I figure we get him drunk enough this weekend and see how far he’ll go. Tom’s been wanting to tap that since the first night I brought him around.”
Peter stopped breathing, his chest tight. Daniel was talking about him.
All he wanted to do was run. Hide. Die.
Instead, he pushed the door open and walked into Daniel’s office.
“Hey Peter, we were just talking about you.” Josh’s voice was innocent but Peter could see a mocking glint in his eye.
“I heard.” He looked at Daniel, hoping to see something, anything that would let him know that Daniel was sorry that he’d said those things.
Daniel was sitting back with a smile on his face. A smile that Peter had once thought was gorgeous, but now looked feral and twisted.
“Did you mean it? What I heard you say?”
“Yeah, you’re a great fuck. Not so much an expert on Oedipus, though.” Daniel smirked at him. “You really need to work on that if you want to keep your grade up in class.”
Peter just stared at him.
“What? Did you think we WERE something?” Daniel’s eyes widened and he started laughing. “Oh my God, you DID! Jesus, what a sap. I was bored, Burke. You were convenient. Don’t make it out to be something more.”
Peter’s heart shattered at that moment. “I have to go.” Stumbling out of the office, he barely made it to the men’s room before vomiting up what little he had in his stomach. Sliding to the floor, he let his tears fall.
“…after throwing up, I went back to my apartment and didn’t get out of bed for two days. It was too late to drop the class, so I went to the professor and requested a section change. Daniel ignored me like we’d never known each other. I finished out the semester and went home.”
Peter’s voice was hoarse. “The next year I began my double major in accounting. I swore that I would never let myself feel that way about someone ever again.”
He looked at Neal. “For a long time there wasn’t anyone. Then there was Elizabeth. She made it easy to love her. I thought I was safe. But you – you’re not safe. You’re everything that I promised myself I would never feel again.” Peter laughed shortly. “You blew right through all those barriers I put up like they were nothing and it completely shattered me. And that picture reminded me of that…”
Peter didn’t realize he was crying until Neal climbed into his lap and brushed the tears away from his face. Softly, he kissed Peter’s forehead, his eyes, his cheeks all the while pressing murmured I love you’s and I’m sorry’s into his skin. That was all it took.
Neal held him as he sobbed.
“I don’t want to wake up one morning and find you gone, Neal. I can’t go through that pain again.” Peter whispered his fear into Neal’s neck. “I’m scared that if you leave I’ll never be able to find all the pieces.”
“Peter, I’m not going anywhere.” Peter felt Neal’s hand caressing the back of his neck and it steadied him enough so he could breathe. “You’re not nineteen and I’m not Daniel. I love you. I may run, but I will never leave. I need for you to believe that.”
Neal’s words eased the pain Peter felt. He may have done a lot of things, but Neal had never lied to him.
‘I love you, too. And I believe you.” He felt lighter, peaceful.
Peter knew that he was a long way from being okay, but hearing Neal’s whispered promises soothed the hurt in his heart for the nineteen-year-old kid he’d been. He leaned in and wrapped himself more tightly around his lover, his friend, and was content to listen to the rain pattering on the rooftop.