Fandom: White Collar
Word Count: 2,908
Beta Credit: elrhiarhodan
Summary: It’s amazing what you can find in a secret room
Author’s Notes – Written for my friend, chicca01 for the 7th day of my 12 Days of Christmas Meme. She requested “Houses Have Their Secrets –Peter/Neal”.
“Neal, dear, are you home?” June Ellington knocked on the open apartment door.
“Closet, be right there.” She heard Neal’s muffled voice and smiled. Ever since he’d moved into the top floor, her life had become exponentially more interesting. Which was how she liked it.
She walked into the apartment and gazed around the room as she waited. He’d kept most of the décor the same, switching out a few paintings from the lower floors, but somehow he’d managed to make it his space. Neal belonged here, at least he did now.
Before – not so much. She thought about when she first met him, all smiles and flash. She wasn’t so sure about him then, but like Byron taught her, sometimes you needed to take a chance and go all in. As she grew to know Neal, she knew she’d made the right choice. Slowly he’d settled, mellowed like a fine brandy.
And it was all because of Peter Burke.
It was Peter’s doing. His influence, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. She sighed, thinking about how the two men danced around their feelings, neither one wanting to admit the magnetic pull they had on each other. Peter’s hand on Neal’s back, instinctively guiding him where he wanted Neal to go. The way Neal looked at Peter like he hung the moon. It was unconscious, but she saw. And she knew others did, too, and were not put off by it.
Her thoughts were interrupted as Neal entered the room. “Hi, June,” he said, buttoning his shirt. “How are you?” He took a sip of the coffee from the mug he’d left on the counter. “Coffee?”
“I’m well and yes, please. I just wanted to let you know that I’m having some work done on the house in the next few days so there will be contractors in and out.” She took the cup he offered and inhaled the rich smell of Italian Roast.
“Problems with the house?” Neal looked concerned.
“Oh not at all. They’re just going to do some painting and winterizing.”
“Good. I was afraid you were going to do some serious renovating.”
He sat down at the table with her. “I love this place just the way it is.”
“I do too. I’d never make any drastic changes. I just want to get the work done before I go visit my daughter for the holidays.”
“Makes sense.” Neal headed to the counter to fill up his mug.
“You know, when Byron and I bought this house, we agreed that we wouldn’t change anything.” Her eyes softened at the thought of her late husband. “Things like painting and decorating maybe, but not the basic structure.” She looked at Neal, a germ of an idea forming in her head. “We liked the layout and the idea of the secret room….” She trailed off as Neal whirled around, head raised like a dog with a fresh scent.
“Oh yes. I thought I’d told you. The mansion has a secret room.”
“Where is it?” Neal looked like a child at Christmas. “It’s not in my closet, is it?”
“Now, Neal, it wouldn’t be a secret if I told you.” Satisfied that her seed had been planted, she rose from the table. “You’ll just have to find it yourself.” Regally, she swept out of the apartment, her mind ticking off the steps she needed to take to put her plan into action.
Neal was suffering. Not physically. No. Physically he was just fine. It was his con man’s soul that was suffering. How could June not have told him about the mansion’s secret room before now? It weighed on him to the point that Peter had to say his name repeatedly in the staff meeting.
When he was home, he studied the exterior of the building to see if there were any windows or walls that didn’t match up. He prowled the rooms, staying out of the way of the contractors but peeking in at their work to see if they’d uncovered anything. He was unsuccessful and that frustrated him to no end.
He even tried to enlist Mozzie, but his friend was no help. Mozzie refused to participate, stating that you never went behind the back of a fellow Parcheesi player.
Neal was on his own.
For the past two days they had been locked in the conference room going through files on the Pederson mortgage fraud case. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem because it gave Neal the opportunity to stare at Peter’s ass when he bent over to look at the boxes of files, but right now he was about ready to tear his hair out.
It didn’t help that Peter was determined to close the case before Christmas and was working them through lunch and late into the evenings. It had given Neal no time to search the mansion for the secret room. He was ready to take a sick day but he knew Peter wouldn’t believe him. He even thought about tempting Peter with the information about the room, but every time Neal tried to talk to Peter about it, Peter told him he didn’t have time for non-work discussions.
“Okay, I think we’ve done all we can do for now.” Peter closed the file he was working on. “Not sure the weather’s going to cooperate with us so let’s take some of these files home so we can conference if we need to. Neal, with me.”
Neal stifled a groan as Peter grabbed a file box from the table. He hoped that the other man didn’t expect them to work tonight. His brain was itching to start searching. Maybe June had the original plans somewhere…
“What, sorry.” He sheepishly grinned at Peter. “Got sidetracked. What did you say?”
“I said I was going to drop you off at June’s and go home to work on these. Elizabeth has an event tonight upstate so I’ll be solo. Thought I’d get a head start on tomorrow.” He waited for Neal to walk ahead of him.
“Sounds good.” There was no way that Neal was going to volunteer to help – not with the whole house to himself to search.
The drive home was a nightmare. The snowstorm that had been forecast had arrived, covering everything in white and bringing traffic to a slow crawl. By the time the got to June’s, Neal was vibrating. He knew it was rude but he didn’t invite Peter up for a beer like he normally would when Elizabeth was out of town, claiming that he didn’t want Peter to get stranded.
Dashing up the stairs, he entered his apartment, intent on getting started. Moments later, he heard a knock on the door. Opening it, he saw Peter, file box in hand, an annoyed look on his face.
“I have a problem. The car died just as I was getting ready to pull out. Can I call a cab from here so I don’t have to wait in the snow?”
“Sure. I’m going to go change. Help yourself to a beer.” He headed to the closet and pulled out a pair of jeans and a Henley from his dresser. Changing quickly he returned to the main room to see Peter hang up the phone with a huff of exasperation.
“The cabs have shut down due to the weather. Looks like I’m stuck here.” He sat down at the table. “Sorry, Neal. I know you had something planned and I’m keeping you from it.”
“What do you mean I had something planned?” Neal gave Peter his best innocent smile, hoping to distract him. “I have nothing going on. Especially with the weather.”
“Neal.” Peter grinned at him. “I can always tell when you’re up to something, legal or not. You’ve been twitching at the office and Mozzie even told El that you’re annoying him. What’s going on?”
“Nothing.” Neal held his hands up in surrender. “I swear.”
“Neal…” Peter had that tone, the one he used when Neal and Mozzie were about to get into something they shouldn’t.
“Okay, fine. There is something,” Neal admitted. “June was talking the other day about the contractors coming and mentioned that there might be a secret room in the mansion.”
“A secret room?” Neal watched Peter’s face light up. “Did she say where?”
“No! That’s the frustrating part.” Neal turned a chair around and sat. “She wouldn’t tell me where it was. She even told me to have fun looking for it when she left this morning.”
“Well, what are we waiting for then?” Peter shrugged out of his suit jacket and unbuttoned his cuffs. Rolling up his sleeves, he said, “Let’s start looking.”
“Wait, what?” Neal was floored. He’d figured that Peter would want to work on the files he’d brought.
“Let’s go find it. You think I want to spend my night going through moldy files when I can go searching for a secret room in a historic mansion?”
Neal began to laugh. “What’s so funny?” Peter asked, getting up and hanging his jacket on the back of his chair.
“Here I was, trying to find ways to get out of work to go do this, when all I had to do was tell you about the secret room.” Neal laughed even louder when Peter gave him a ‘duh’ look, before breaking into a matching grin.
Going to the fridge, Peter pulled out a beer and a bottle of water for Neal. Handing it over he asked, “So, what have you found so far?”
Neal huffed in frustration. “That’s just it – nothing.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I checked outside and can’t find an angle that looks off. There doesn’t seem to be any strange windows anywhere. Inside’s the same.” He chuckled. “I even resorted to the time-honored practice of knocking on walls. You should have seen Daisy’s face when she found me pounding on the living room paneling,” he said, referring to June’s housekeeper.
“Hmmm….” Peter looked pensive. “What about house plans?”
“If June has them, I don’t know where they are.”
“Does Mozzie know?” Peter twisted the cap off his beer and took a swig.
“Oh I’m sure. He and June are thick as thieves.” Grinning at Peter’s snort, he continued. “But he won’t tell me. Something about the Parcheesi players’ code.”
Neal watched as Peter stood and stalked around the apartment. Sleeves rolled up, pants hugging his ass, he was tempted to say screw it and jump Peter right then and there. Rip the buttons off that shirt, bend Peter over the couch and fu…
“Neal! Focus.” Peter snapped his fingers under Neal’s nose.
“Sorry, just thinking.”
“Well think out loud so I can participate.” Peter stood there, arms crossed, obviously waiting for a reply. Neal wasn’t sure that Peter would want to participate in his particular thought processes.
“I was thinking that maybe we should start on the bottom floor and work our way up.”
“Sounds like a plan. Let’s go.”
Hours later they’d had no success. Peter’s white shirt was now streaked with dust and had a rip on the back where he’d caught it on a nail in the utility closet. Neal had a bump on his head from an altercation with an end table in one of the guest rooms.
“So what now?” Peter asked. They were sprawled on the second floor landing, water bottles their hands.
“Well, we’ve cleared the basement and the first floor, and I checked most of the second floor while the contractors were here and didn’t find anything.”
“What rooms didn’t you get to?” Peter took a swig of his beer and leaned his head back. Neal closed his eyes, imagining climbing into Peter’s lap and running his tongue over the mole on Peter’s neck.
Shoving the image to the back of his brain, he replied, “The spare bathroom and the library.”
“Wait, you didn’t check the library?” Peter scrambled to his feet. “That’s the quintessential place for a secret room, Neal! How could you miss the library?”
“I couldn’t get in there!” Protesting, Neal followed him down the hall. “The contractors had all the furniture moved so they could paint and redo the windows. They just left today. I didn’t have a chance!”
Peter huffed as he pushed open the door to reveal one of Neal’s favorite rooms. Buttery soft leather couches and overstuffed chairs. Reading lamps positioned just so. Floor to ceiling bookcases stuffed with fiction, nonfiction and accented with little knickknacks to break up the space. Neal could still smell the scent of fresh paint.
Peter stood in the middle and slowly turned around, perusing every wall. “That one!” he said, pointing to one without a window. He headed to the built-in bookshelves and started reading the spines out loud. “Jane Austin, Chaucer, Charles Dickens, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Shakespeare, Herman Melville, another Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Mark Twain…”
“Wait, go back!” Neal motioned to the books. “Shakespeare’s in the wrong place.”
“What?” Peter looked at Neal in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“They’re alphabetized and the Shakespeare’s out of order. Which one is it?” Neal looked closer. “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Peter’s delighted laugh sent shivers down Neal’s spine. “Ah, the story about Beatrice and Benedick. I always enjoyed their sparring.”
Neal felt Peter’s gaze on him and flushed slightly. “Gotta love the classics.”
“Especially when they’re out of order. Shall we?” Peter put his hand on the book and motioned for Neal to do the same.
They both tugged. Nothing happened at first, but then Neal heard a whirring sound, a click, and the bookcase smoothly opened.
“We found it.” Peter’s eyes were dancing. Neal loved it when he looked like this. Breaking a case, solving a puzzle. This was the Peter he adored.
“We did. Ready to see what’s so special about this secret room?”
“Can’t wait.” Opening the bookcase further they both slipped inside.
It was not at all what Neal envisioned. He figured they might find storage boxes, old furniture, maybe some toys from when June’s children were small.
He never expected to find a bed in the middle of the room.
The deep mahogany wood of the king size sleigh bed glowed subtly in the light of the crystal table lamps. The velvet green comforter was turned down, showing the pristine white sheets, while piles of pillows against the headboard picked up the muted colors of purple and rose in the Aubusson rug underneath.
The side table held a crystal cut decanter of whisky that Neal was sure was Waterford. The fireplace was stocked with wood, waiting to be lit, and Neal could see the snow falling in large flakes through the window.
“What…?” Neal looked at Peter, positive that the two of them were wearing identical expressions of confusion.
“I’m not sure.” Peter walked around the room, touching items. A journal, a silk robe, cufflinks. “Neal, I think this was June and Byron’s hideaway.”
“I think you’re right.” Neal smiled, thinking of June and Byron having this special place. “We probably should leave.” He didn’t want to spoil anything.
“No…actually I think we’re supposed to be here.” Neal glanced up at the strange tone in Peter’s voice. “Look.”
Two notes leaned up against the decanter – one with Peter’s name on it, the other with Neal’s.
“Okay, this is weird.” Who knew that they were looking for the room? “June – she did this.”
“Not just June, El, too. This is her handwriting.” Peter handed him the envelope with his name on it.
“Should we open them?” Neal wasn’t sure he wanted to see what was inside.
“They went to all this trouble to get us here.” Peter tapped the note on his fingers. “We probably should.”
“But how’d they know we’d both find the room?”
Peter chuckled. “El knows I usually wind up at your place when she’s out of town, and June dangled a mystery in front of you. Of course we’d wind up here.”
“Good point.” Neal opened the flap and pulled out a creamy white linen card, his eyes widening at the words written there.
“What’s it say, Neal?” Peter’s voice was different, softer.
In an awed voice, Neal spoke.
I know how you feel about Peter.
He feels the same way about you, but he’ll never tell you.
June knew you’d both find this room.
She and Byron made memories here.
I want the two of you to make memories, too.
He heard Peter, murmur, “Oh El…,” before reading his card out loud.
Christmas is for Giving.
I'm giving you permission.
“Peter…is she…?” Neal stopped, afraid that if he said the words they wouldn’t be real.
“Yeah.” Peter’s voice was rough. “She is.”
“And you…?” Neal swallowed, his throat dry. “Want this?”
“How long?” Neal needed to know.
Peter smiled softly. “Honestly? It feels like forever. But really, I think when I came down the stairs and saw you on my couch, with my wife, petting my dog.”
“But you were angry with me.”
“No, more like jealous because I wanted to be on that couch, too. And I knew I couldn’t. At least not then.”
“And now?” Neal gazed at Peter, knowing his feelings were written all over his face.
“Now?” Peter grabbed Neal’s hand and, walking backwards, pulled him towards the bed. “Now I think we need to get started on making some of those memories.”