Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Peter/Neal, mentions of Peter/Neal/Elizabeth
Word Count: 4235
Beta: > miri_thompson
Spoilers: Post-Series Finale
Summary: A trip to Venice changes everything.
A/N: This is a belated birthday fic for my dearest friend elrhiarhodan. I am so sorry it is late.
Thanks go to the amazing kanarek13 who created this incredible art after I asked her “um….could you….?”
This fic has a special inspiration. Back when I was a newbie White Collar fan and fledgling fic writer, I came upon a story that had this fantastic scene of Neal jumping off the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy. The title was Neck Deep In a Game of Cat and Mouse written by elrhiarhodan. It was a small part of the larger story, yet it snagged my attention. I kept wracking my brain to remember what episode mentioned that event and came up with nothing.
Finally, I screwed up my courage to ask her where in the canon timeline it fell. Being the gracious person that she is, she didn’t laugh hysterically at me, but explained that it was something she had created. I was floored, because I swore it was canon. (And I’m not the only one who thought that.)
That scene, and her adaptations of it in other fic, always stayed with me. As far as I’m concerned it should be canon and Jeff Eastin just forgot to add it. (Because he didn’t talk to Elr like he should have!)
This story is my homage to that scene and Elr’s amazing ability to create something that has had such a lasting effect in fandom.
“So, this is the place?” Elizabeth’s voice was amused, lilting. “The infamous Rialto Bridge escape?”
Peter chuckled as she stepped out onto the little balcony that faced the Grand Canal, smiling at her teasing tone. Lord knows she’d heard the story often enough - from him and from Neal – to recite it from memory.
“Yep.” He placed their bags in the corner closet. They’d unpack later. Right now he wanted to take a look at the bridge again. The last time he’d seen it in person was the day he’d been chasing Neal. Joining her on the balcony, he slipped his arms around her waist and nuzzled her, making her giggle. “That’s it.”
“It’s beautiful.” Elizabeth leaned back into him. “The pictures don’t do it justice.”
“No - they don’t.” Peter was silent, gazing at the edifice in front of them. The evening rays of the setting sun bathed the ancient stone in pink, blue and gold. Locals and tourists flooded the steps, hurrying to some unspecified errand, perusing the tourist and jewelry shops that lined the stairs, taking photos that he was sure would wind up on Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Gondolas and vaporettos took turns making their way under the single arch, their wakes causing the canal waters to slosh against the stone supports.
Peter smiled again, thinking of a young con artist and his daring leap all those years ago. So much had changed since then. So many years of love, loss, happiness, anger, pain, hope – leading them to where they were now. He buried his face in Elizabeth’s hair and sighed.
“Thinking of Neal?” She turned in his arms and hooked her wrists behind his head.
“Yeah.” Peter kissed her forehead.
“When’s he coming in again?”
He tightened his arms as Elizabeth nestled into his chest. “Tomorrow, he said. Sometime around three, I think.” Peter rested his chin against Elizabeth’s head. “He had an early meeting he couldn’t reschedule.”
“Can’t wait to see him. It’s been too long.” Elizabeth stretched and broke their embrace, heading to the bed to relax.
“It has.” Far too long, he thought, trying to ignore the tightening in his chest. This was supposed to be a happy trip, not a maudlin one. But he couldn’t help it. Whenever they came for a visit, it reminded Peter of the distance that emails, phone calls and encrypted Skype conversations just couldn’t bridge.
“You’re doing it again.” Elizabeth’s voice broke him out of his musings.
“Doing what?” He knew full well what she meant but chose to play ignorant.
“Focusing on the time you two are apart instead of looking forward to the time you’re going to spend together.” She held out her hand to him and he joined her on the side of the bed. “I know it’s hard, hon, not having Neal right next to you day in and day out, but at least this way you know he’s been safe. And who knows, maybe he’ll say yes this time.”
“Maybe…” Ever since the last of the Panthers had been neutralized – thank you Mozzie – Peter had been asking Neal to come back to New York. And every time Peter asked, Neal had just smiled and said ‘Ask me again in a year.’ One year turned into two, then three then five and Neal replied the same way every time Peter asked. “But I doubt it.”
“Things change, Peter.” Elizabeth hugged him. “One day he may surprise you.”
Sighing, he hugged her back. “If you say so.”
“I do. And I think you need to get out of your funk. I’m hungry. Let’s go out and get something decadent. We are in Venice, after all.” Her smiling face lifted Peter’s mood.
“Sounds like a great idea.” He rose, pulling her up with him. “I’m sure the concierge can direct us to some wonderful pastries that I’m not allowed to have at home.”
“Hey now, I’m just watching out for you,” Elizabeth stated.
“I know, and I love you for it.” Peter laughed as they headed out the door.
Three a.m. The alarm clock glowed, its red numbers mocking him. Peter shifted, trying to get comfortable, but no luck. There was no way he was going to get back to sleep. He checked the time difference – nine o’clock in Washington - and debated calling Diana to say hello. He didn’t, knowing what she would say. He’d told her the truth one evening while they were out for drinks during a conference he’d attended in DC and she’d asked why was wearing his “Caffrey Look”. She would huff and tell him to stop creating roadblocks where there weren’t any and enjoy himself.
He rose, his movements slow so as not to wake Elizabeth. She grumbled and rolled away from him. He chuckled, wondering why he was even concerned. She could sleep through an air raid siren if she was tired enough, but the minute little Neal stirred, she was up and into his bedroom before Peter even knew what was happening.
Peter pulled on a pair of jeans and a faded Quantico t-shirt, collected his wallet and the room key and headed out into the night.
The lobby was quiet, the cool marble floor echoing the slight squeak of his tennis shoes. Peter nodded at the desk clerk as he passed, pushing through the heavy brass doors onto the cobblestone street.
He walked to the foot of the bridge and looked up. Even at this hour of the night there were pedestrians gathered. Late night revelers, their laughter reverberating under the main arch, evening shift workers on their way home, people like him, out just because. He climbed the steps, slowly, recalling the last time he’d set foot on the stone.
Daytime, then. And crowds, pushing past each other to whatever destination was important to them. Peter remembered the sun, hot on the back of his neck, the sweat dripping down into the collar of his suit.
He’d been there on a hunch, a lead, more like a whisper of hope than anything else. The theft of the Canaletto sketches had Neal’s signature all over them and a 10-hour flight from JFK to Venice on Peter’s own nickel had placed him at the foot of the Rialto.
Peter climbed the steps, alone this time. Before, he’d had a small cadre of Interpol agents and carabinieri he’d managed to scare up from the local office, most of whom were skeptical that Neal was still even in the country.
But Peter had known. Just like he’d known about the Botticelli in Florence, the Waterhouse in London, the Degas in Paris. Some almost preternatural awareness about where Neal was, what jobs were his.
And that he was still in Venice.
Slowly Peter continued up the stairs until he was steps away from the top. He pictured the crowd from that day flowing around each other, an intricate dance of shoulders brushing, missteps and nudges until they’d parted and he’d seen him.
Dressed in fitted black pants, black t-shirt accentuating his build, go bag suspended carelessly over his shoulder - the proverbial cat burglar’s Armani. Neal’s head had been down, uncharacteristically ignoring the mass of tourists winding around him. Peter had only a moment to appreciate the image before Neal’s head shot up and they’d locked eyes.
For a moment Peter could have sworn Neal was going to give himself up. His eyes had widened, then narrowed as though he was taking Peter’s measure. A huge smile had crossed Neal’s face, giving Peter the impression he had been pleased with what he’d seen.
Neal had tilted his head, his smile even wider, looked at Peter, winked, and had vaulted over the railing of the bridge.
Peter remembered the gasps and screams from the public as he’d rushed up to the top of the bridge and scanned the water below.
No Neal in the water. Just the wake and the rumble of a passing boat.
He’d dashed to the other side of the bridge, knowing without a doubt what he would see.
There was Neal, crouched down on the canopy of a vaporetto. He’d straightened, turned and looked up at Peter. With a smile and a two-fingered salute, Neal had dropped down, swinging on the edge of the roof to land surefooted onto the deck.
Peter’s agents had clustered around him, running their mouths in surprise and questions. Peter had stood there, silent, as he watched the boat motor away.
He’d known as soon as Neal had jumped that he wasn’t going to chase him this time. It had been like watching one of the big cats on the African plains - a perfect beast at home in their skin. Peter had admired that and, for a heartbeat, hadn’t wanted to curtail that freedom. Plus he’d known that Neal would be long gone by the time he’d be able to round up more support.
There would be other opportunities.
The full moon sparkled on the water as Peter leaned against the stone railing, thinking about the present. Neal would be here tomorrow, they would enjoy each other for the week they were together and Peter would pretend as though his heart wouldn’t be ripped to shreds when Neal answered ‘Ask me next year.’
Sighing, he let his footsteps lead him back to his hotel room in the hopes he might find the rest that was eluding him.
The knock on the connecting door couldn’t have come any sooner. Peter had been vibrating all morning, to the point that Elizabeth swore she was going to max out their credit cards on Italian leather goods if he didn’t stop pacing.
He flung open the door to see Neal leaning against the doorjamb. He was dressed casually, yet elegantly in an off white pair of linen pants and navy blue button down. His hair was longer than usual and Peter thought he could see a touch of grey at the temples. A few more laugh lines at the corner of his eyes, maybe. But that didn’t matter. To Peter he looked beautiful.
“Neal…” Peter pulled him into an embrace, relishing the feel of him under his hands. “God, I’ve missed you!”
“Me too, Peter. Me too.” Neal wrapped his arms around Peter and the two of them stood there for a while enjoying the feel of each other. Peter slid his hands up to cup Neal’s face and brushed his lips against Neal’s mouth. How he’d missed this. Touching Neal, kissing him.
“My turn,” Elizabeth said as she wrapped their arms around her waist. Peter watched as Neal bent to kiss her, amazed at how wonderful they looked together. Two of the people he loved most in the world.
Neal placed another kiss on Elizabeth’s forehead before turning to Peter. “So, I haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast. What say I take you to one of my favorite restaurants for an early dinner?”
“Is anything serving at this hour?” Elizabeth furrowed her brow.
Neal smiled at her. “It is for me.”
Of course. “For you it would be,” Peter commented dryly.
Neal had the grace to blush. “I did the chef a favor a few years ago and when I told him I was coming to town he insisted.”
“Do I want to know what kind of favor?”
“Nothing illegal, I swear.” Neal held his hands up in protest. “His wife always wanted a Chagall to hang in her house and I painted one for him for her birthday. Signed my name and everything.”
Peter quirked an eyebrow. He’d let that slide for now. “Nothing too pricy, okay?” He pocketed the hotel key with a grin. “And nothing that I won’t recognize.” Peter chuckled at the old joke about his simple food preferences.
“Don’t worry Peter, I’ll make sure your humble palate will be satisfied.” Neal grinned back at him.
Neal took them to Oseteria Bancogiro, a tiny establishment tucked inside of one of the ancient warehouses of the Rialto district. On the way, Elizabeth made sure that she took a picture of the two of them with the Rialto Bridge in the background. “It’s to go on the mantle with the Prom picture,” she said, smiling.
They were greeted by the chef, Aldo, who sang Neal’s praises and showed them the painting on his smartphone. He and Neal discussed the food choices in flawless Italian before Aldo proclaimed ‘Il bene,’ and left for the kitchen.
“Okay, what are we eating?” Peter sat back as Neal poured them all glasses of sparkling water.
“We’re starting out with Il misto di pesce del Bancogiro – it’s the house special fish platter – then safron gnocchi with salmon and chicory. For the Secondi Piatti di carne I got you fillet of beef with savory sauce, lamb chops with pine sauce for El and I’m having duck breast with honey and walnut sauce. The Secondi Piatti di pesce is salmon with herbs and wasabi sauce. Then I thought we could finish off with the Biscotti allo zenzero e mandorle con salsa al cioccolato.”
“Are we going to have room for all that?” Peter was amazed at the amount of food Neal had ordered.
“Now Peter, you know the Italians don’t believe in fast food. A meal is supposed to be savored, not rushed through.” Neal leaned in and whispered in his ear. “Just like sex.”
Peter shivered. “Keep that up and we’ll be taking the food to go,” he growled.
Neal burst into laughter and kissed him just as Aldo came back with the wine. “Il tuo amante?” the chef asked.
“Sì, lui è il mio amore,” Neal replied with a smile.
“È lui bravo a letto?” Peter saw Aldo nudge Neal with a wink.
“Come uno stallone.” Peter thought he recognized a word but he wasn’t going to ask right then.
“Tu sei un uomo fortunate.” Aldo uncorked the wine and poured them all a glass.
“Più di quanto tu creda.” Neal took Peter’s hand and kissed it.
“L'amore è buono.” Aldo waved his hand between them. “Love…it is good between you. Makes you happy. Happy is good.” He saluted them and headed back to the kitchen.
“What did he say and should I get embarrassed?” Peter sipped his wine.
“He asked about you and probably.” Neal sat back and smirked. “Aldo asked me if you were my lover. I told him that yes, you were my love.”
“And?” Peter knew there was more.
“Then he asked me if you were good in bed.”
“Oh God!” Peter buried his face in his hand. “What did you tell him?” He knew he wasn’t going to want to hear this.
“That you were a stallion.”
Elizabeth choked on her water. “Oh Peter, that is too funny. True but funny.”
“You’re not helping.” Peter pointed his finger at her, but she just kept giggling.
“He also told me I was a lucky man.” Neal’s voice was quiet, drawing Peter into his gaze.
“And what did you say?” Elizabeth cocked her head.
“I told him that I was luckier than he knew.” Then Neal was kissing Peter, soft, tender, like it was their first time. Peter lost himself in that kiss. It made everything right – the distance, the time – none of it mattered. Just Neal, right here, right now.
They broke apart at Aldo’s applause and Peter blushed. The chef placed the first course in front of them. “Kissing later. Now…mangiare!”
Neal laughed and winked at Peter. “Never argue with the chef.”
They spent hours at the restaurant, laughing and eating as the dusk brought purples and pinks to compliment the oranges and yellows of the setting sun. Neal told stories of his clients forgetting security codes and trapping themselves in their corporate bathrooms and Elizabeth shared pictures of little Neal, assuring his namesake that Mozzie was teaching him all the important things in life.
Peter sat back and let their happiness wash over him, realizing that Elizabeth was right. He needed to focus on the here and now instead of dwelling on the day they all had to go home.
“What are you thinking?” Neal touched his hand, bringing Peter back to the table.
“How much I love you.” It was simple, honest, and Peter meant every word. He tried out the Italian that Aldo had shared with him when Neal had excused himself to take a call. “Ti amo più di tutte le stelle del cielo.”
“More than all the stars in the sky…” Neal smiled. “That’s beautiful.”
“I know.” Neal gestured to the server. “Tell Aldo thank you for the lovely meal and we’ll stop in again.” He stood and extended his hand to Elizabeth. “We ready to go?”
“I’m not sure I can move.” Elizabeth rose with a groan. “You may have to roll me back to the hotel.”
“It’s a gorgeous evening for a walk anyway.” Peter said. They headed out of the restaurant and into the night air. Peter held Neal’s hand as Elizabeth walked in front of them, looking into the darkened windows of the shops on their way.
Back in their room, Peter watched as Elizabeth kicked off her shoes. “I’m going to take advantage of the wonderful Jacuzzi we have. You boys should take advantage of…other things.”
“I think that’s an incredible idea.” The growl in Neal’s voice sent shivers of excitement down Peter’s spine and he let himself be led into the adjoining room.
Neal pressed him up against the wall and devoured his mouth. Peter pushed back, nipping and biting, demanding entry so he could taste Neal.
They shed their clothes in a fevered rush as they stumbled to the bed. Neal fell, splayed out, pulling Peter over him. “Peter…” His voice was hoarse, his desire evident.
Peter’s head spun. It had been a year since they’d been like this and he couldn’t decide whether to take it slow or fuck Neal into the mattress. In the end he settled for a little of both.
He placed long, languid kisses all over Neal’s body, paying special attention to those places that he knew were Neal’s triggers – toying with his nipples, laving his belly button, sucking bruises into the cut of Neal’s hip.
Soon he had Neal moaning and quivering beneath him. “God Peter, please. Need you. Fuck me, please!”
Peter chuckled and continued to take his time, running his fingers lightly up and down Neal’s cock. “Missed me, huh?”
“You know I have!” Neal squirmed and hissed as Peter pressed down on the spot behind his balls. “Haven’t been with anyone else.”
“So is it me you’ve actually missed, or this?” Peter pressed a finger into Neal, stroking across his prostate.
“You,” Neal gasped. “You bastard. You!”
Peter chuckled again, leaning down so he could whisper into Neal’s ear. “I missed you too.” He added another finger. “Been waiting to make you fall apart for me.” He kissed Neal’s neck. “Want to be inside you, feel you around me. God, Neal, not sure I can hold out much longer.”
Neal grabbed Peter’s head and kissed him. “Then don’t,” he growled against Peter’s lips.
“You’re not ready…” Peter began, but Neal growled again.
“Don’t care. Need you inside me.” Neal bucked his hips in irritation and scowled at Peter. “Now.”
Peter threw his head back and laughed. “Yes, sir.” He grabbed the lube that was conveniently located on the nightstand, slicked himself up and pushed in.
“Fuck yes!” Neal arched up off the bed. “God you feel so good.”
“Gonna get better.” Peter moved, opening Neal up with his cock, reveling in Neal’s moans. “So tight…” He trailed off, sliding in and out until he was seated fully inside. “Neal…”
Neal’s eyes were closed, his face contorted in arousal, slight tears making their way down the sides of his face. He grabbed Peter and pulled him close. “Love you so much.”
The squeak of the mattress and their whispers of love and want were the only sounds in the room, until their desire spiraled closer to the edge.
“Harder, Peter, gonna come.” Neal was caressing Peter everywhere, his hands unable to keep still.
Peter increased his pace, pistoning into Neal, hitting his prostate dead on. “Come on…come for me…” He wrapped his hand around Neal’s cock and jerked it, once, twice. It was enough.
Neal came, ropes of semen splashing on their bellies, their chests. It set up a chain reaction, pulling Peter’s orgasm out of him until he slumped on top of Neal, drained.
They lay together, panting. Peter placed his hand on Neal’s chest, feeling his heartbeat. Neal shifted, getting more comfortable against Peter’s side. Peter felt him relax, his breathing slowing as he fell asleep.
Peter sighed. He missed this – Neal beside him, replete. It was almost like before. He rolled towards Neal, tucking him under his chin. Closing his eyes he told himself that this was good. This was what he wanted. This was enough.
He fell asleep pretending to believe the lie.
The rest of their week flew by. During the day they played the tourist, Neal Caffrey style. He took them to all the out of the way places that Fodor’s didn’t even list, finding food and drink that only the locals knew about. They shopped in boutiques where Elizabeth was able to pick up specialty Venetian glass for a wedding gift, custom leather pants for Peter – he was out-voted on that purchase – and an incredible hand-carved carousel puzzle for little Neal. They toured private galleries that were by invitation only.
Their nights were spent wrapped around each other, the three of them nestled into one bed, or just he and Neal, bare skin touching, hips straining, cocks rubbing together before Peter would push in, slowly, making Neal moan, making him come. Falling asleep sated and exhausted. Trying not to count the days left before they had to leave this bubble of happiness.
The last day was sunny, warm and beautiful. Elizabeth had arranged for a picnic lunch with the hotel and they found themselves at the Palace Gardens. Neal was relaxing, and Peter watched as he closed his eyes and tilted his face to the sun, a soft smile on his features.
This was the moment when, in the past, Peter would ask Neal to come back to the City. He studied his lover, his friend, and realized that this year he couldn’t ask, couldn’t deal with the heartbreak when Neal said no. Again.
This was how things had to be. Peter and Elizabeth in New York. Neal in Paris. Once a year visits. Skype and email. He needed to accept that and be glad he got that much.
“Peter.” Neal had opened his eyes and was smiling a soft smile. “You okay?”
“Yeah, just thinking about stuff.” Peter moved closer to him, inhaling the scent that was Neal. Stocking up until the next visit.
“Care to share?” Neal turned his head and kissed that sensitive space behind Peter’s ear.
“Not really.” Peter wasn’t going to give in to the desire to tell Neal what was on his mind, in his heart. He was going to lock it away and keep the mood of the day light and easy. He’d mourn once he and Elizabeth were back in New York.
“Well, I’ve got something to share with you.” Neal shifted over to the picnic basket and pulled out a manila envelope from the top of the lid. “Here, I want you to look at this.” He handed it to Peter.
“What is this?” Peter opened the flap and pulled out a deep blue folder with the name of Neal’s company embossed on the front.
“Just read it.”
Flipping open the folder, Peter started looking through the items inside. Schematics, floor plans, timelines – the paperwork all pointing to a new satellite office. “Neal…”
“My company is expanding, Peter. For the past five years, we’ve been studying the feasibility of opening a new branch. It’s going to happen and they want me to head it up. I haven’t given them an answer yet.”
“Where are you going?” Peter couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that Neal was leaving Paris.
“Look at the location, Peter,” Neal said softly, pointing to a specific memorandum. Peter read, then read again.
“You’re coming back to the City.” Peter was at a loss. Neal was coming back to New York. And he didn’t tell Peter.
“Maybe? Why maybe?” Did Neal not want to come back? To them? To him?
“Because I’ve been waiting for you.” Neal’s answer was simple, but not.
“Waiting for me? Why? What for?” Peter was confused by his reply.
“For you to ask me the question. And you haven’t.” Neal’s voice was rough, uncertain. For the first time since they’d been in Venice, Peter looked at Neal. Really looked.
Neal’s eyes were searching, pleading, his expression raw. With certainty Peter understood. Neal was scared. Scared that Peter would stop asking, stop letting him know that he was wanted. And Peter almost ruined everything by deciding to keep his mouth shut. He tossed the folder on the blanket and gathered Neal into a tight embrace.
“Ask me the question, Peter. Please.” Neal whispered so softly Peter almost didn’t hear him.
“Neal, Please...will you come home?” As before, Peter knew what the answer was going to be. But this time he wasn’t afraid to hear it. He felt more than saw the brilliant smile on Neal’s face.