The first thing Neal noticed when he entered the office floor was that most of the agents were absent from their desks.
The second thing he noticed was a commotion in the conference room.
The third thing was Peter giving him the finger point through the glass.
By then, he should have been on high alert, expecting anything from a particularly high-end case to his own imminent demise. But nothing could have prepared him for what awaited him once he’d climbed the stairs: Instead of the usual tension and restrained excitement of a new case, the room was filled with amusement, some of the agents honest-to-god snickering when he entered.
What the hell was going on?
He was about to ask Peter exactly that, when his eyes landed on the monitor everyone was more or less discreetly staring at, and realization dawned.
While Neal was still busy staring at the painting displayed – an 18th century nude everyone would have agreed to be the work of Nicolas Lépicié had it not been for the strikingly familiar model – and tried to piece together how this situation came to be, Peter shooed the agents only there for entertainment back to work, leaving them with Jones and Diana only.
“This showed up at an auction yesterday as a previously unknown piece by Lépicié,” Peter began to explain.
“Neal, you wanna tell us anything about that?”
The agents visibly suppressed a grin as he turned around to stare at Peter.
“I don’t think you need me to tell you that it’s not.”
“No. In fact they managed that all on their own.”
“He never painted many nudes.”
“Right. It also failed the pigment test.”
“Of course it did,” Neal said, carefully contemplating how much information he was willing to give freely as he walked over to sit in his usual chair and take the file Peter was holding out.
“It was never meant to be a forgery.”
“So you’re familiar with it, then.”
Neal gave him a look. He wasn’t going to pretend that wasn’t his naked form sprawled on a sofa.
“I was there when it was painted, obviously.”
“Obviously,” Peter echoed. “And I guess it wasn’t the 17 hundreds.”
“No,” Neal sighed, opening the file and admiring the closeups of the work. It had been the late 19 hundreds, but Paris all the same, a beautiful warm summer, and the thin sheet he’d been wearing had been exactly the right attire for the heat. He hadn’t seen it in a while, neither Paris nor the art, and he got lost for a minute in all the details he’d forgotten about. It was still a breathtaking piece.
When he finally looked up again, Peter was watching him curiously, and he put the copy back down.
“I’d like a name, please,” Peter said, in that tone that said it wasn’t the polite request it was worded as, but Neal slowly shook his head.
“You’re not looking for the artist, you’re looking for the seller. They might not have anything to do with each other. In fact I’m almost sure they don’t, otherwise this wouldn’t be here.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Peter argued, “Find the forger, find the seller.”
But Neal stood his ground.
“Look,” Peter continued, now in a softer, if slightly patronizing voice, “I know you don’t like to throw a colleague under the bus if you were… this intimate,” he waved at the art, “but we’re gonna find her one way or another, so just give us the name, Neal.”
He shifted in his seat, probably visibly uncomfortable judging by the faces across from him, but he knew Peter was right, so he took a breath, pushed the file back towards him and swiftly pulled his features back to the infamous Caffrey confidence as he answered.
Peter’s eyebrows rose.
Neal’s followed in mockery, and he shrugged, deliberately casual, as if to say ‘well, what did you expect?’ and as he leaned back he caught a glance at Jones and Diana trying to conceal their reactions.
It all lasted less than a few seconds and then Peter was in action again, assigning tasks and waiting for the room to clear, staying behind. He still wanted to talk. Good. So did Neal.
As soon as the door closed, Peter turned towards him and let himself fall into the chair at the head of the table. Neal spun to face him, to brace for what was coming, and to conceal the copy of the art he had slipped into his inside pocket.
“I never knew you were...” Peter started, waving his hand around, obviously searching for the right words. Neal refused to do him the favor of supplying them.
“...with Delaney,” he finished lamely, and Neal shook his head, almost amused.
“You weren’t supposed to.”
Then he sat up straight again.
“Peter, listen, that sketch was done in private. To paint it like a Lépicié was more of a joke. A practice. He never intended to pass it off as real, or he would have used better paint.”
Peter hm-ed, still processing.
“I’ll keep that in mind. Can you reach out to him?”
Neal waggled his phone.
“I told Moz to get the word out. But I can’t promise he’ll answer.”
Peter nodded. He’d had enough experience with his exes to get that it wasn’t always easy.
“What did you mean I wasn’t supposed to,” he started again, not willing to let it go, “I wasn’t supposed to know much of anything you were doing, and yet here we are. I knew what you had for breakfast most days.”
“Nobody was supposed to know. Even Mozzie only found out afterwards.”
And that was mostly the truth.
“We had strict ruled in place to make sure of that. He even more so than me,” he added.
“But you were working together, right? There must have been-”
Neal smiled ruefully, watching Peter ‘I call my wife sunshine every morning’ Burke grapple with the notion. And they could have been that, too, but,
“When you’re dining with the top 1000, you have exactly two options,” he explained, “you either show up with a beautiful lady on your arm, or you make excuses for her.”
When Neal got home that day, he was not at all surprised to find Mozzie sitting at his kitchen table, full glass of wine in front of him, a clear ‘we need to talk’ pose. Neal tried to ignore it.
“Did you get the message out?”
Mozzie eyed him.
“I did,” he answered slowly, and Neal could hear the ‘but’ coming from a mile away. So he sauntered over to the cabinet, got his own glass out and joined him at the table, pouring a small amount of the red he had chosen. He could wait this out.
“Although I did wonder whether my eyes or memory had suddenly decided to fail me upon reading the name.”
There it was.
“John Delaney?” he asked as if to clarify. Neal shrugged.
“The John Delaney?”
“What’s the problem? I thought you liked him.”
“I never said such a thing.”
“Moz, you two went to the Griesmer Gallery together.” He motioned at himself. “Without me!”
“Well, I’ll concede he was the most… sensible of your...” he paused, and let a hand circle about, “...amorous escapades.”
Neal shot him a look.
“But I seem to remember you left behind quite an uncomfortable situation.”
“Don’t remind me.”
“Then are you sure you want to rekindle that flame?”
“I’m not rekindling anything, Moz.”
He took the paper out of his pocket and unfolded it before sliding it over to Mozzie, who didn’t take long to recognize a) the work and b) the FBI printing.
“That is unfortunate.”
The boys were still in the house when Neal’s phone rang. Elizabeth was standing next to him in the kitchen, preparing Satchmo’s breakfast, so she clearly heard the single “Caffrey.” coming from the other end once he’d answered. He looked up sharply to where Peter was tying his tie after having finished his morning routine mostly unperturbed by Neal’s visit.
Peter looked back.
“What do the feds want from me,” the voice – Johnathan, she remembered – asked, not sparing a second for pleasantries, and Neal seemed to agree with that, immediately all business.
“You remember that Lépicié you did of me?”
“I’m not gonna confirm or deny anything while there’s probably a suit standing right next to you, Neal.”
Elizabeth glanced over at Peter with a bemused smile, who had gotten up and joined them in the kitchen where he was now, in fact, standing right next to Neal. She could hear rather than see the responding eyeroll as she took Satchmo’s bowl and led him away, still keeping an ear and an eye on them.
“You’re on speaker,” Neal warned, then pressed the corresponding button and put the phone down on the table.
“He knows it wasn’t a forgery. But it turned up on the market and White Collar put two and two together and it landed on my desk yesterday.”
Jonathan snorted, probably imagining how that had gone down, similar to how she had once she’d heard the story.
“It’s not like you didn’t deserve that.”
Neal smiled, the dreamy smile of someone only now realizing how much he had missed someone.
“Can I see you?” he asked, voice having gone soft, probably having forgotten himself, because the smile had left his face again even before the expected reply came.
“How stupid do you think I am.”
But Peter gave him the unmistakable sign that he had to keep trying, so he braced himself with both hands on the table, either side of the phone, and continued.
“I need to proof both of our innocence to the FBI. And I need the full story to do that.”
There was a long silence from the other end, as if Johnathan was considering that. Then eventually,
“I’ll meet with Mozart.”
That looked like it hurt. Neal huffed and shook his head, throwing a glance at Peter and settling on the garden though the kitchen window for a second, before he reigned his anger in and focused back on the phone, making a decision.
“On his terms.”
Now, Elizabeth had never met this man, but she knew when someone was being difficult on purpose. And this seemed like pushing it. They all knew how paranoid Mozzie could be if given that kind of power.
Neal looked up at Peter to convey his growing exasperation as he forced himself to answer casually.
“You still have his number, I guess.”
“I do,” Johnathan said, and then the line went dead, leaving Elizabeth to wonder whether this was one of those love triangle situations, or just two people being incredibly fed up with each other.
Peter followed Neal up the stairs to his apartment, hoping to find Mozzie there. The information he had gotten them from John, however much filtered down it had reached Peter, had proven helpful to some degree, but they were once again at a dead end, and Neal had suggested a solution. Apparently, Mozzie had certain means that, while not technically illegal, he’d had to promise he never saw happening if he wanted the intel they provided. He tried not to think about it too much.
Unsurprisingly they found Mozzie sitting on the balcony with a glass of wine in his hand, looking out over the city. It was the figure accompanying him, however, that made Neal stop in his tracks. Peter had no doubts about the identity of that man, and when first Mozzie and then he turned around, neither did Neal.
“Oh look,” the very same said, getting up from the chair, “the suits are here.”
He was including Neal in that, they both knew, and Peter glanced over to gauge his reaction. It was anger. Clear as day. Yet it only stayed long enough for Neal to tell him to stay away from this, no words needed, and then he was halfway out the door with a forced smile on his face that Peter doubted had anything to do with manners.
“You could have let me know you were here. I would have come alone.”
“Oh, but you know how I love to make an entrance.”
The words matched Neal’s icy tone every degree, and Peter felt like there was a bit of backstory he was missing. Or a lot, he amended, as they begun trading insults and accusations in earnest, and it became clear that they had quite the history together that he wasn’t privy to.
It was difficult to make sense of anything he was hearing, but from the tidbits of information he did get, he gathered the following:
There had been a relationship.
There had also been a thing. A con, presumably, that they were both eloquently avoiding to mention any incriminating details of, always annoyingly professional, even when trying to knock each others heads in.
But they had been in disagreement over something, the methods used or the target itself, and if Peter knew one thing, is was that conflict like that was what lead most collaborative operations to end up in his holding cell. It was dangerous. It encouraged mistakes. And that must have been exactly what had happened – one of them had slipped and gotten cornered in by authorities.
Peter was betting good money on Neal. His heart had always been his downfall.
They had been at it for what felt like hours to Peter, but were probably only a handful of minutes when Mozzie, sitting between the two, emptied his glass with a sigh and got up, returning to the kitchen for a top up.
“Are they always like this?” Peter asked, watching Mozzie reach for the bottle and then decide to just take it with him. He turned back to the balcony with a dramatic sigh.
“Love’s tongue proves dainty Bacchus gross in taste, for valour, is not love a Hercules? And when love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes me dizzy with the harmonies.”
Peter barely had time to process that and mouth a silent ‘What?’ to himself before Mozzie was back outside.
“Alright! Children!” he called, getting both of their attention immediately. “I did not spend the last few hours of my day convincing him to come here for you to go at each other’s throats like a pair of chicken!”
“Stay out of this, Moz,” Neal said, “it’s not as if you’re innocent in this.”
He looked vaguely affronted by that as he poured the wine and put the bottle down on the table.
“I did what I had to do to keep us from the gates of the Phantom Zone. You know the Suit was starting to pick up our trail by then.”
Interesting, Peter thought. So this must have been while he was already on the case of Neal Caffrey, or at least aware of his doings. He mentally went through his stack of ‘probably involving Caffrey’ files looking for any match, while the discussion outside continued.
“No, I get why you had to run,” John was saying, and, bingo.
“What I don’t get is why you needed to risk having to run. To risk us.”
Neal shook his head.
“You could have come with me,” he said, but it started to sound defeated.
“And then what? End up collateral damage in whatever caused you this mess?”
John nodded his head at Neal’s feet, where the anklet was peeking out under his trouser leg.
“You didn’t know that.”
“Somehow I did,” he spat, and Peter winced. Neal’s ego wouldn’t like that.
“John-...” he began, playing with the foot of the wineglass next to him, and then looked up, causing John’s face to go through a myriad of emotion in quick succession.
“No!” he interrupted before Neal could even start his sentence, “don’t you dare give me the face, Caffrey! I’m angry with you!”
But his resolve was clearly also crumbling. Peter smiled to himself. He knew the face all too well. The lost boy, wide-eyed, overwhelmed by the world. No one could stay mad at that.
“You know I can’t stand the face.”
“You were right,” Neal said, ignoring him, and somehow still sounding like it pained him to admit.
“I shouldn’t have gone in alone.”
John sighed, his shoulders dropping, and he stepped closer.
“It was reckless. I fucked up.”
He nodded, but otherwise ignored Neal and walked right into his personal space to slide a hand under his jacket to his side.
“You know, you’re still as cute as ever when you do that.”
Peter frowned. Well, this was taking a sharp turn. Neal had angled his face to the side and Peter could see a small smile forming and – was he actually blushing? He shared a look with Mozzie, who was standing somewhere behind the two now and found him less surprised, but similarly lost.
“I’m sorry for chickening out,” John said. “We could have pulled it off together, probably. But I didn’t like the risks.”
They were both smiling at each other now, apparently having reached some sort of silent understanding, until Mozzie cut the moment short by chiming in.
He speedwalked once around the table to avoid passing the two and then came inside to shoo Peter out the door.
“If you thought their fighting was bad, you’re vastly unprepared for their flirting, Suit,” he explained. “I believe you needed something from me?”
Peter continued to stare for a moment, then shook himself and followed willingly with a hollow,
As soon as Peter was out the door, John took another step forward, pushing from personal space to intimate space, and put his other hand to Neal’s temple, fingers playing with his curls.
“It’s good to see you again.”
“Yeah. You too.”
And then, with no warning – or rather, enough warning, but none that Neal’s brain was able to compute at the moment – he was kissing him. Just once, just softly, but lingering, and Neal was violently thrown back to a time long ago, a time before Kate, before prison, before Peter, and he nearly staggered with the force of it.
“Earth to Caffrey.”
He opened his eyes again, and only then realized he’d zoned out for longer than he’d thought.
He closed his mouth.
Took a step back.
Ran a hand through his hair.
“I need a drink.”
And then he grabbed the bottle from the table and escaped to the kitchen.
He had only a few seconds to compose himself before he heard John follow a few steps behind, and felt him watching as he got a fresh glass out, filled it, and downed half of it in one go.
“Are you okay?”
Neal put the glass down on the counter.
“So much has happened,” he said, and turned around. He knew he didn’t have to elaborate – Mozzie had probably filled him in on what he hadn’t already known, and it had been a lot of years for both of them.
“I’ve changed. And now you’re back and-”
John only huffed.
“So have I. That’s how time works, Neal.”
He looked at him for a long moment, then nodded.
“Maybe you’re right.”
“Oh, I’m always right,” John said, and carefully reached out to toy with Neal’s lapels.
“That’s not what I heard from Morocco.”
“That was-” John started defensively, but broke off when he noticed the mistake.
“Wait, you know about Morocco?”
John leaned away comically.
“Then that was you-?”
But Neal shook his head.
“Mozzie,” he explained.
“Hm. And here I thought you’ve been keeping an eye on me. That you’ve missed me.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
“Well then maybe I should go and thank Mozzie for that,” John said, going as far as to move away a fraction and point a thumb at the door.
Neal put on his best serious face and pulled him back in by the hips.
“I might have had something to do with it. And I’m right here, all ready to be thanked,” he purred, almost laughing at his own line as he leaned in, and John met him halfway.
“You haven’t changed a bit, Caffrey,” he mumbled into the kiss, and then with a newfound fervor he deepened it, his hands traveling from his lapels to the middle of his chest, under his jacket, and slowly upwards until it was sliding off his shoulders. Neal slipped out of it obligingly and draped it over a kitchen chair before he found himself suddenly crowded against the table and hopped onto it, pulling John in to stand between his thighs. His hands were in his hair now, and then they moved down to his collar and John paused the kiss for a moment to figure out his tie, raising an eyebrow when he did.
“Although the rat pack is certainly new.”
Neal grinned, and watched as John carefully undid the tie pin and placed it next to them on the table before pulling the tie loose and throwing it to join the jacket. Next were the buttons, and Neal saw that as his chance to tug at John’s shirt until it came free of his pants, letting his fingers roam underneath. John leaned back in, giving Neal more to reach, and kissed him again, confident he could finish the rest of the buttons blindly. And he almost did, when there was a knock at the door.
“Ignore it,” Neal said against his mouth before he could even think about letting go of him, but it knocked again.
It was Peter.
“Mozzie found our man, I need you to stop whatever you two are doing and get back to the office.”
At that, Neal broke away from the kiss with an apologetic expression, knowing Peter wouldn’t back off anytime soon. John sighed, but wordlessly started to rebutton Neal’s shirt.
There was another knock.
He looked over at the door as if he could glare at Peter through it. Why must he always have such terrible timing?
John must have mistaken the movement for impatience though, because he casually nodded at the door as if to tell Neal to invite him in. But that can’t have been right. He wouldn’t-? Neal looked at him with a question mark clearly on his face, and John only stared back challengingly, momentarily abandoning the row of buttons. So Neal cleared his throat, caught his breath, and before Peter would loose his patience with him, decided to just roll with it.
“It’s open,” he called out.
Which Peter was probably aware of, but had the right idea about what was going on inside to be afraid of barging in. The door opened anyway, and Neal heard him step in, and then stop once he’d taken in the scene in front of him.
“Give me a minute, yeah?” Neal added for good measure, and turned his head sideways just enough to both keep John in his vision and see Peter shake his head in his periphery.
“Why do things always end in bed with the hot ex for you?” he said, somewhere between incredulous and exasperated.
“You think I’m hot?” John immediately shot back, and Peter pulled a face that could have been described as a smile with only a lot of goodwill.
“Not what I meant.”
“Then I think what he meant was that someone’s got a reputation now,” John said, going back to the buttons and slowly making his way up.
Secretly, Peter was glad for the conversation. Otherwise the situation would quickly turn awkward. It still was, even though he was watching the exact opposite of what surely happened a few minutes prior, and it wasn’t as if he hadn’t walked in on Neal before, with his row of mysteriously case-relevant girlfriends, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to it. It was intimate, in a way, yes, but the way Neal kept looking at John, it was as if there was a whole other conversation happening simultaneously that Peter had no idea what it could be about. And it was driving him nuts. Two con men in on a secret was never a good sign.
“If we have the guy,” Neal eventually interrupted his thoughts, half turning towards him, “why are we going to the office again instead of arresting him?”
“Because I have a gut feeling,” Peter offered. “I’ll explain in the car.”
Neal would have probably had something to say about that, hadn’t John in that moment reached the top few buttons of his shirt and skillfully adjusted the fabric on Neal’s shoulders, letting his fingers linger on his jaw in one fluid motion and using them to angle his face forwards and up again to look at him. As they made eye contact, Neal flashed the cockiest smile while John popped the collar and closed the last few buttons, only seeming to remember Peter existed when John reached for the tie.
“And why does this have to be now instead of tomorrow morning when it’s, you know, office hours?”
That was the part Peter would rather not discuss in current company, but he couldn’t think of anything clever to say, so he went for a less subtle approach than he’d liked.
“Right,” Neal said, probably seeing right through him and sharing a look with John that was at least not unclear in its meaning. Things would reach John sooner or later anyway, but Peter still preferred it to be later.
John mostly ignored them now, leaning over Neal’s shoulder to right the collar over the tie, causing Neal’s eyes to almost flutter shut until he came back around to check the front, letting index and thumb trail along the skin, and Neal was watching him again.
He fiddled with the knot, probably more concentrated than he had any need to, being under as much scrutiny as he was, and then he finally slid the ridiculous pin back into place. Satisfied with his work he looked up, keeping one hand on Neal’s chest, and there that conversation was once more. A few seconds, until it was cut short when Neal’s gaze flickered over to Peter and he took an audible breath before slipping off the table, pushing against John in the process, one hand going to his cheek, the other to the jacket slung over the back of a chair, and looking like it was a split-second decision to pull him in for a quick kiss.
“You can stay if you want,” he said, “Moz and June are downstairs.”
John nodded, and then Neal turned around to Peter with a gesture that said ‘You ready?’ and had him wanting to strangle the kid as he wordlessly went to open the door.
“A-ha!” Peter yelled, pulling a file out of an old case box, and drawing the attention of a few agents on the floor.
Curious, Caffrey stopped in the doorway to his office, and waited for an explanation.
“I knew it! That’s where I’ve seen that face before.”
Peter looked up, spotted Caffrey and waved him in, displaying the file almost proudly. There was a photo, and Diana couldn’t make out anything from her place at her desk, but the box looked suspiciously like one of the old ‘Neal Caffrey had something to do with this but I can’t prove it’ cases, and by Caffrey’s reaction as he picked up the file, he hadn’t been aware it had been taken.
Diana’s interest was piqued, and so she quickly grabbed some files and reports she’d been meaning to get to Peter, and made her way up to his office.
As she reached the stairs, she heard,
“You mean you had this the whole time?”
“Yeah. I could never figure out why you met with him. There was nothing on him, no connection to you or what you were up to. But in a restaurant like that, it had to be important.”
“And you never assumed we were dating, because…?”
They all knew the answer to that one. Peter didn’t even have to say it. At least he had the grace not to deny it and grimaced.
“Don’t apologize for what worked out in my favor.”
He put the photo back down and turned to leave again, but Peter held him back with a wave of his hand.
“Oh, and El wants you over for dinner. Both of you if you can.”
Diana had reached the door now but waited, smiling at Peter’s choice of words. Because that’s exactly how it was, she understood. Once you entered the Burke’s extended family, Elizabeth didn’t invite you to dinner, she demanded your presence.
Caffrey declined nonetheless.
“He’s really not the kind for family dinner.”
“Or at least he wasn’t,” he added as an afterthought. “Anyway he won’t stick around once he’s sure this is cleared up.”
“But you’d want him to.”
It wasn’t a question, and so Caffrey didn’t answer.
“Circumstances aren’t permitting.”
Peter narrowed his eyes and him and he threw his hands out.
“What do you want me to say? We were madly in love, things happened, it can’t work.”
He dropped his arms to his sides again.
“Look, is there gonna be a problem because of this?”
“No, of course not.”
And with that, Caffrey left, passing Diana still standing by the door, only slowing down a second as they shared a commiserating smile.
Once he was out of earshot and Peter had had a second to breathe, she knocked on the door frame and entered, holding the files out in front of her. He took them with thanks, and put them down on the wrong pile, still in thoughts.
“Am I acting strange?” he asked, “With Neal?”
“Did he say so?”
“You were always a little nosy when it came to his exes.”
“Hm. ‘Cause they’re usually criminals,” he grumbled, and she smirked.
“So this one is no exception, then?”
Peter shook his head and turned the file he’s shown Caffrey so she could see.
“We barely have anything on him. But I just know.”
She took the photo and promptly raised an eyebrow at Peter. Well. That was an anniversary dinner if she’d ever seen one. However she refrained from saying so, seeing as Peter was already massaging his forehead in frustration, instead she put the photo back down and sighed.
“We’ll just do what we always do,” she suggested.
“Wait for things to go downhill and save his arse.”
There was breakfast. June had insisted, saying something about ‘the nice young man’ and ‘good impressions’, and Neal had thanked her politely before swiftly closing and locking the door behind her again – he had still been in nothing but a pair of hurriedly thrown on sweatpants, after all.
But that was how he found himself leaning against the kitchen counter with a mug of fresh coffee in his hands, watching as John enjoyed a croissant and the sunrise over Manhattan. Yesterday, they had closed the case with a few tricks up their sleeve and an honestly thrilling display of teamwork that must have even impressed Peter, and John had promised to stay at least to see the flat in all its daylight glory once.
“Greatest view in the city,” Neal said, and John turned around to take in his half-dressed form instead, obviously no longer talking about the skyline when he agreed,
Neal huffed a laugh.
“Although I do much prefer the leather-jackets and gloves kind of look.”
Still grinning, Neal shook his head as John put down his plate and joined him in the kitchen, going to kiss him softly. When they separated again, Neal carefully put his mug down next to him and placed both hands on the edge.
“There’s not much room for that here, I’m afraid.”
John pulled back to give him an incredulous look.
“Maybe a little,” Neal amended, and John leaned in for another kiss with a chuckle.
“Is that why you thought I’d go in for the money behind your back? Because that’s what you’d have done? Because doing crime without the FBI being literally right around the corner isn’t risky enough for Neal ‘where’s the fun in that’ Caffrey?”
There was the look again.
“Believe it or not, there have been enough pretty people with that exact plan coming here to seduce me and leave after screwing me over.”
“I think I did alright on the screwing part,” John said after a beat, and Neal fought hard not to roll his eyes.
“I walked right into that one, didn’t I.”
But before he could say anything else, John was kissing him again, one hand brought up to his face, the other resting next to his hip on the counter, careful not to muss up the suit Neal was still in the middle of putting on. Then the other part of his statement seemed to register and he broke the kiss an inch.
“You could come with me.”
Neal wasn’t sure whether he was being honest or mocking him for suggesting the reverse all those years ago, but he answered anyway.
“You know I can’t.”
The trouble he’d get himself into just wasn’t worth it at the moment, and he felt like he understood better now what John was saying, knowing what the other side of this felt like.
“Hm,” he said, and gave one last peck before taking a step back and resting both arms on Neal’s shoulders.
“But there’s more than that,” he observed. “You like it here, don’t you?”
Neal pulled a face, his gaze wandering to a place behind the other.
“You like this flat, with it’s insane view, and these people surrounding you. You like Saturday night dinner at the Suit’s, and their domesticity, and their white picket fence, and their dog. Everything you never wanted.”
Neal focused back on him and he huffed.
“Neal Caffrey, settling down. Never would have thought.”
He shook his head.
“You have changed.”
Somewhere behind them, Neal’s phone beeped against the countertop.
“I only wonder, is that the influence of prison, or of all the time spent working for the enemy?”
Neal sighed, and instead of answering curled around himself to grab his phone, immediately wishing he had the air for another sigh.
“That’s Peter, he’s coming over to pick me up.”
“That’s my cue, then,” John said, pulling his hands back to hold Neal in place for another kiss, before leaving to find his things. “Already spent enough time around the feds.”
Neal stood rooted to his spot, wishing desperately he could change anything about this situation, but like before, they had both made their decisions, and nothing he could do would keep them from their paths without making everything worse. So he waited, still feeling the place where John’s fingertips had left his skin, watching the small bag slowly fill, while his mind played back a different scene.
Him, running around their temporary place with as much certainty as John was now, getting his passports and money, clothes for a few days, a practiced motion perfected through years of necessity.
“You were wrong, though,” he said eventually, not lifting his eyes. He could hear John slow his movements where he was picking up his discarded clothes from last night and tying them to a neat bundle, but he didn’t give any other sign of acknowledgment, so Neal continued.
“About me never wanting this.”
He risked a glance up and saw John do the same. Then he went back to finish off his bundling.
“I knew I could never have it. That’s a difference.”
John sighed, and came back to the kitchen, throwing Neal a look before he placed his clothes into the bag with importance.
“I’m enjoying it while it lasts.”
It wasn’t an answer, Neal knew, and not to the question he was really asking, but who would he be if he couldn’t talk himself out of answers he didn’t want to give or even think too deeply about. John noticed, of course, but thankfully let him get away with it, and then there was a knock at the door and the conversation was put to an end anyway.
Neal pushed away from his spot to unlock and open the door, just as he heard the sound of a zipper behind him.
“Hey Peter. Come in.”
Peter frowned at the locked door, which it only ever really was if Neal was planning something he better not know about or was… entertaining house guests, then at his naked feet and loose tie. But he did step inside, and as soon as he was away from the door, John slipped though, Neal following and pulling the door in behind him, leaving it only slightly ajar.
There was a tense pause as they stared at each other and Neal went over what he still needed to say, most of which would be useless or inappropriate now anyway.
“Will I see you again?” he finally settled on, which he deemed to be reasonable.
John wordlessly pulled a card out of his bag and took one step back up to tuck it into Neal’s front trouser pocket.
“Call me when you’re rid of that thing,” he said, motioning at his ankle, and Neal nodded. It was fair enough. Relations with criminal informants weren’t exactly what opened many doors in their world.
John turned to go, but stopped to glance through the door behind Neal where Peter was likely doing a bad job of pretending not to watch the exchange, and then surged forward, grabbed Neal’s face with both hands and kissed him, perfectly mirroring their last goodbye, and Neal would have appreciated the irony if he hadn’t been so focused on trying to make this one last, but John pulled back way too soon, looking at him with finality.
“Good luck, Caffrey,” he said, and then he turned around and left.