Author: J. Rosemary Moss
Genre: White Collar; OT3, asexual Neal
Disclaimer: Alas, I don't own White Collar or the characters
Summary: Peter wants to fix something that's not broken . . .(This story is a response to an LJ Collar Kink prompt. I've prettied it up and reposted it here and on my Dreamwidth.)
Peter yawned as he walked out of the elevator onto his floor. He almost wished he could turn around now and head back to Brooklyn—and his bed. He had to stop staying up to watch extra innings.
He blinked. Neal was already at his desk. “Morning, Neal. Come on up with me,” he added nodding at his office. “We’ve got a new mortgage case to work on.”
Neal groaned as he stood up and then fell in step beside him.
“Don’t you dare kvetch about it,” Peter warned as he headed up the stairs.
Neal mumbled something under his breath, but he wisely kept it too low for Peter to make out the words. Peter smiled at that as they entered his office.
“Why are you here this early?” he asked the kid as he took off his coat. “I thought I’d be lucky to see you before noon.”
“Why?” Neal answered, helping himself to the chair opposite Peter’s desk. “I’m never late.”
“True. Or mostly true, anyway. But I thought you might consider a hot date last night a good excuse.”
To his surprise, Neal blushed. “Oh—well, the date ended early.”
Neal shrugged. “She broke up with me.” He paused to smile at Peter’s expression. “Don’t worry; I won't go off the rails on you. I'm not broken hearted. We’d only seen each other a few times.”
“Yeah, but you only see every girl a few times. Why?”
He answered with another shrug—a shrug that was, in Peter’s opinion, almost too nonchalant. “Must have something to do with the anklet. Not to many women are interested in an ex-con, Peter. Especially when he’s still in the FBI’s custody.”
“You telling me that Caffrey charm can’t overcome that?”
Neal kept the smile plastered on his face. “Apparently not.”
Peter didn’t believe that for a second. He'd bet the real problem was that Neal was still hung up on Kate. The kid hadn’t moved on yet. Maybe he hadn’t even accepted her death yet.
He bit back a sigh as he decided not to push Neal. Not at the moment, anyway. He'd have more luck if he could get Neal nice and mellow first. “So you’re free tonight?”
Neal raised his eyebrows. “Peter, are you asking me out?”
“Yup. How about a hot date with an old married couple?”
The kid grinned. “Sounds great. Dinner at Chez Burke? Or should we meet Elizabeth here in Manhattan? We can try that new Thai place I told you about.”
“Let’s stick with Chez Burke. Satchmo’s been missing you.”
“Likewise,” Neal said, still grinning. “Ok, dinner at your place sounds great.”
“Good. Now let’s look at this mortgage case.”
Neal made a face, Peter ignored it, and both men got down to business.
Neal shut down his computer with a satisfied smile. Peter was walking toward his desk with an exasperated look. He must have just heard from Elizabeth.
“Did you send my wife flowers?” he demanded as he reached Neal’s desk.
“Of course. I picked out an exquisite arrangement—”
Peter rolled his eyes as he cut him off. “You’re showing me up, Caffrey. Will you stop romancing my wife?”
Neal shook his head at the agent. “Don’t be jealous,” he chided. “I’m romancing both of you. Look, I made this for you,” he added as he picked up a delicate origami rose and held it out to him.
Peter started to roll his eyes again, but a smile tugged at his mouth as he looked at the rose. He slipped it into his coat pocket and then grabbed Neal’s coat for him. “Come on, Romeo. Elizabeth won’t be keen on any romance if we’re late.”
Peter relaxed on the couch, scratching behind Satchmo’s ears as he watched Neal and Elizabeth dance to Sinatra. They made a beautiful couple.
Why wasn’t he jealous? Neal was gorgeous, and El was obviously enjoying his company. By all rights, Peter should be ready to strangle the kid. But he wasn’t. He treasured these quiet evenings when the three of them were together.
Besides, there was nothing threatening about Neal’s attentions to his wife. Yeah, he was flirting with her—but Peter knew that was just in fun.
But why was he so sure? Because he trusted El and Neal, of course. Neither of them would play him false. But it was more than that. Even if he didn’t trust them--in some evil mirror universe, say--he still wouldn’t have worried.
Peter frowned, trying to puzzle out his friend. Neal wasn’t over Kate. That had to be it. He would only engage in harmless flirting until he was.
Or maybe Neal was gay. That wasn’t implausible. He was certainly metro enough. Maybe Kate had been his best friend and beard rather than a lover. Maybe all the girls he flirted with now were just part of his cover—that would explain why his relationships with them tended to end after a few dates.
But that didn’t quite fit. Neal had no reason to hide his orientation from Peter; it wouldn’t change anything about their friendship or partnership. The kid had to know that, right?
Peter bit his lip. There were parts of Neal that were still a mystery to him. If he could figure those parts out maybe, just maybe, he could help the kid cope with Kate’s loss. Maybe he could help him move on.
Of course, that would mean fewer nights like this, with just the three of them. Peter sighed as he tried to convince himself that he was ok with that.
Peter watched Neal dip El as the music ended. She laughed and then turned to collapse on the couch. Peter hid a smile. They’d all been drinking and El was a lightweight when it came to alcohol.
“I don’t know about you two,” she said, “but I’m exhausted. Neal, are you crashing here?”
Neal made puppy dog eyes. “I will crash here, thank you—but not yet. It’s only midnight. Let’s go out to a late night movie.”
Peter groaned. “What part of ‘old married couple’ don’t you understand?”
El laughed. “Pour him another glass of wine, Peter. Maybe it will put him to sleep.”
“I’ll take the wine, but that won't work,” Neal informed her, widening his eyes to make them even more irresistible. “Come on . . .”
“Why don’t we watch a movie here?” El suggested.
Neal furrowed his brow, considering. Then he smiled, picked up his empty wine glass and nodded. “Ok,” he said, holding up the glass to Peter. “More wine, please.”
Peter picked up the wine bottle they’d left next to the couch and filled his glass. “What do you two want to watch?”
After a lengthy discussion, Neal raided their DVD collection. He and El settled on 'The Philadelphia Story.' He put the movie on and then sat on the couch, nestling between Peter and El.
And ‘nestling’ was exactly the word, Peter reflected. A tipsy Neal was evidently a snuggly Neal. Peter rolled his eyes, but didn’t object as Neal cuddled against him and El, in turn, cuddled against Neal.
They drank more wine as they watched the film. Neal kept up a running—and increasingly slurred—commentary. “How could her fiancé think she slept with Jimmy Stewart?” he complained.
“Yeah,” El said through a yawn. “He should trust her. But that’s why she’ll end up with Cary Grant.”
“You two are mixing up the actors with their characters,” Peter pointed out.
“Sex, sex, sex,” Neal continued, ignoring him. “Why does everyone think it’s so important?”
Peter raised an eyebrow at him. “It’s a pretty basic need.”
Neal snorted—it seemed surprisingly inelegant of him, but that was the only way to describe it. “Not for everyone. And there’s no way Katherine Hepburn would have cheated on her fiancé anyway. Her character, I mean.”
“You don’t like sex?” El asked, pushing herself off of Neal for a moment to give him a funny look. “But you’re so romantic.”
Neal put an arm around her, pulling her close again. “Romance and sex are two different things. And I never said I didn’t like sex.”
“I think you strongly implied it."
“It’s just overrated,” Neal retorted.
“Uh-huh,” Peter said. “Keep that up, Caffrey. It’s the only reason I’m not telling you to take your arm off my wife.”
When the movie ended, Peter watched El flash Neal a mischievous smile. “Do you really think sex is overrated?” she demanded.
Neal laughed. “In so far as it’s not worth cheating on your fiancé over, yes.”
“Oh,” El said, looking guilty for misinterpreting his words. “That’s sweet. You never cheated on Kate, did you?”
“Never,” Neal answered, crossing his heart. “Even after she supposedly dumped me. While she was alive—well, there was no one else.”
El leaned even closer to him so that she could kiss him on the cheek. “I was wrong about you. I always thought you were boyfriend material only, but you’re going to make some girl a wonderful husband.”
“Thanks—but I’ll have to get rid of this anklet first.”
“You mean you’ll have to serve your time and wait till I take it off you,” Peter corrected.
Neal rolled his eyes. “That’s what I said!”
All three of them laughed and somehow made their way upstairs. Neal bid them a good night and turned into the guestroom, where Satchmo was waiting for him on the bed. Peter and El continued on to the master bedroom.
El sighed as she slipped out of her dress. “He’s such a romantic. Peter, we have to find someone for him.”
“Don’t look at me—I have no luck playing matchmaker for Caffrey. ” He paused to lower his voice. “I’m not even sure which gender to set him up with.”
El frowned as she slid out of her stockings. “I don’t think he’s gay,” she said in a whisper. “Look how devoted he was to Kate.”
“What if she was his best friend and beard instead of a lover? I’m not saying he wasn’t attached to her, El. I’m just saying their relationship might not have been what it seemed.”
“But—why would he need a beard? We wouldn't care. None of his friends would. Can you imagine Mozzie making a fuss? And no one would give him a hard time at the Bureau. Not in your department, anyway.”
Peter shrugged. “I know. It doesn’t add up. I’m wondering if some idiot relative of raised him to think homosexuality was evil. Maybe he just hasn’t gotten over that yet.”
But Elizabeth didn’t look convinced. “I don’t know, Peter.”
“Well, there has to be a reason he keeps breaking up with one girl after another—usually after only a few dates. Either he’s not over Kate, or there's some other reason he can't make it work. And come on. It would explain a lot. Women always go for the gay guys.”
She winked at him. “Some of us go for painfully straight guys, honey. Although I keep hoping exposure to Neal will bring out your inner metro . . .”
Peter grabbed hold of her and pulled her to him. “I’m plenty metro. I wore that tie you two picked out, remember?”
She laughed and gave him a quick kiss, but as they broke apart her face grew serious. “I think your first guess was right—he’s not over Kate. How do we help him with that?”
Peter sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe he just needs more time.”
El nodded. “Right. And no pressure. Do you think he’d enjoy a few more dates with an old married couple?”
“I think we should issue the invitation,” Peter agreed. He paused to pull her close again, planting a gentle but demanding kiss on her lips. “But that can wait till tomorrow. For right now, I think we should forget all about him.”
“You coming over tonight?” Peter asked as he put on his coat. “El won’t be home till late, but we can hang out.”
Neal had been spending three or four nights a week with the Burkes for the past month, so it wasn’t an unusual question.
Neal nodded as he buttoned his own coat up. “Yeah—unless you’re getting tired of my company.”
“Nah. El wants our neighbors to think that we’ve taken a young lover to spice up our marriage.”
Neal grinned. “Let’s see. How much gossip do you want? I can just nonchalantly brush my shoulder against yours on our way up to your front door.”
“You always do that.”
“True. Ok, we’ll have to hold hands. Or we can make out on the front steps.”
Peter grinned back. “That’ll work.”
The conversation turned after that, but Peter thought back to the joke on their ride home. Was Neal gay? Did he—did he have any interest in him?
Neal liked to flirt with him; there was no question of that. But it was a teasing, playful kind of flirting and Peter had never detected anything serious beneath it. On the other hand, Neal never objected when Peter got into his personal space, or put a hand on the small of his back, or chivalrously held a door open for him.
Peter frowned. Had he inadvertently been leading Neal on?
“What’s the matter?” Neal asked.
Peter glanced at him. The kid had his eyebrows raised, but he didn’t look lovesick.
“Nothing,” he answered. “I think I’ve just got an overactive imagination.”
Apparently Neal had decided that he no longer needed the excuse of too much to drink in order to cuddle on the couch. After dinner, just as Peter was settling down to watch the game, Neal collapsed beside him. Then he snuggled against him, nudging his way under Peter’s arm
El still wasn’t home yet, but Neal’s snuggling seemed so innocent that Peter didn’t think she’d be upset about it. She’d just make another crack about her “competition.”
As for Peter—he was strangely ok with this. It didn’t feel like Neal was out to seduce him. He seemed more like a cat who had just curled up to the nearest warm body.
Peter relaxed and even tousled Neal’s hair. That drew a chuckle from the ex-con.
“What?” Peter demanded.
“Do you pet all your CI’s?”
“Do you cuddle with all your Federal agents?”
Neal smiled up at him as he made himself even more comfortable. “Touché. You don’t mind this, do you?”
“No. But you’re not coming on to me, are you?”
He’d been kidding—but to his surprise Neal seemed to take the question seriously.
“No,” he answered at last. But then he hesitated. “At least not in the way you think.”
Peter cocked his head at his friend, but he kept his arm around him and even kept stroking his hair. “Oh yeah? In what way, then?”
“I want to seduce you into keeping this up for a while.”
“Keeping what up?”
“This,” Neal answered, making a vague gesture with one hand. “All these dates. Me staying over a few nights a week. Maybe add more flowers and dancing. But I’m not trying to get into your bed.”
“So you want a platonic affair with us?”
“Exactly.” Neal paused to flash him a teasing smile. “Come on, Peter. Isn’t this good for you too?”
Peter could never remember how he answered Neal’s question—he probably just blushed and turned back to the game. Neal, evidently undaunted, stayed cuddled up against him and soon drifted off to sleep.
Peter sighed and stared down at his friend, resting his hand on Neal’s arm. So Neal wasn’t interested in any sexual relationship with him or Elizabeth. That was a good thing. The problem was that Neal didn’t seem interested in a sexual relationship with anyone.
Was he still grieving that deeply for Kate? Or had Kate been a beard all along? If so, a beard for what? The obvious answer was that Neal was gay and still in the closet, right? But Peter shook his head, reminding himself that when it came to Neal, the obvious answer was rarely the right one.
Neal needed romance, contact and affection like he needed air. That much was obvious. But for some reason he didn’t need any kind of sexual release.
Peter grunted, wishing this weren’t his business. He couldn’t imagine himself worried about the sex life of any other friend. But Neal—Neal was more than a friend. Peter owned his ass, at least for the duration of his sentence, and that meant he had a certain responsibility for the kid’s welfare.
Ok. So maybe Neal didn’t want sex of any kind. Maybe he had some medical problem that meant he couldn’t get it up. Or maybe—maybe someone had fucked the kid up so badly that sex was just abhorrent to him. Peter felt his stomach twist at the thought, and without realizing it, he tightened his grip on Neal’s arm.
Neal’s eyes fluttered open. He yawned and then smiled up at Peter. “Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” Peter answered.
Neal cocked his head at him. “What’s the matter? You look angry.”
Peter tried for a smile. “Not exactly. Or not at you, anyway.”
Neal yawned again and then ran his fingers through his hair. Somehow that brown mop of his ended up looking artistically mussed.
“So tell me what’s going on,” Neal continued as he sat up.
Peter released his arm so that he could adjust himself against the couch. Then he looked Neal over before answering. “I, uh—” he stopped. This really was none of his business.
“Are you, uh, just not into sex, Neal?”
To his surprise the kid grinned. “Congratulations, Agent Burke. I was wondering when you’d put the pieces together.”
Peter managed a small smile. “Took me long enough, huh? So, what does that mean, exactly?”
Neal put an arm over his shoulders. “It means I’m thoroughly satisfied with my platonic affair with you and Elizabeth.”
“Was your affair with Kate platonic?”
He nodded and then cocked his head again. “Does that bother you?”
Damn. The kid knew him to well. “Ok, yeah,” Peter admitted. “It’s not that you’re, ah—”
“Asexual,” Neal supplied.
“Right. Asexual. It isn’t that, Neal. I’m just wondering what the hell someone did to you.”
There was a long moment of silence. “You think the fact that I’m asexual means there’s something wrong with me? That someone must have done something to make me this way?”
Peter looked away from him and shrugged. “It’s not—it’s unusual. I mean, it’d be fine if you were gay or whatever. But you should be interested in someone.”
“I’m interested in you,” Neal said, with a smile that was just shy of come-hither. “You and Elizabeth.”
“But you don’t want anything from us.”
“Oh, I want a great deal from you,” Neal said, inching closer. “I just don’t want to have sex with you—or anyone else. Why is that so hard to imagine?”
“It’s not, Neal. I just—I just don’t like the idea that someone hurt you.”
Neal paused to stare at him. Then he took a deep breath. “You know what? I think this was a mistake.”
“I’m going home.”
He was already off the couch, but Peter couldn’t help himself. “Wait—”
“Don’t," he warned. "I’ll see you back in the office.”
Peter didn’t try to stop Neal as the kid walked out the door; he knew how badly he had screwed up. He hadn’t meant to offend him, though. He was just sick at the thought of someone hurting him.
He ran his fingers through his hair, wondering how to make things up to Neal. Should he wait an hour and then call? Or was it best just to leave him alone for now and let him cool off?
Satchmo, who had been lying forlornly by the front door since Neal left, suddenly perked up. Peter heard a footfall on the front steps. Elizabeth must be home.
But it was Neal, with a hesitant smile, who opened the door. “Hey,” he said, just standing there.
“Hey. You came back.” Peter wanted to curse himself as soon as the words left his mouth. That was the best he could do?
Neal shrugged. “Yeah, well. I just realized that we never made out on your front steps. How will you get the neighbors talking?”
Peter half choked and half laughed. Neal seemed to take that as encouragement. He stepped inside, pausing only to kneel and pet Satch. “Hey, boy!”
“Can I, uh, get you a glass of wine?”
Neal rolled his eyes. “I’ve been practically living here this past month,” he said as stood up again. “You don’t have to treat me like a guest.”
Peter nodded and then took an awkward step toward him.
Neal met him halfway. Peter was never sure how it happened, but suddenly he had an armful of Caffrey. He didn’t think too hard about it, though. He just pulled the ex-con closer to him.
“Sorry,” he said into Neal’s hair. “I didn’t mean to . . .look, it’s none of my business if—”
Neal laughed against his shoulder. “Peter, please shut up for a couple of minutes.”
Peter managed a small smile and then wisely decided to keep his mouth closed.
They were back on the couch within a few minutes. Neal didn’t snuggle up to Peter this time, though. He wasn’t as confident as he’d been earlier. Did Peter want a platonic affair with him? Or was he too weirded out?
He glanced at the agent. He was sitting up, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, not quite looking at him. Neal felt a surge of warmth for the man. Peter might not have a grain of tact, but he was solid and safe and, apparently, ready to wreak vengeance on Neal’s behalf.
And even his awkwardness was kind of cute.
“I’m glad you came back,” he was saying. “And I’m sorry if I—if I leapt to the wrong conclusion. ”
“No one hurt me, Peter.” He stopped, and decided to correct that. He still couldn’t tell a direct lie to the man. “Well, not in the way you’re thinking. Look, no one made me this way, ok? For as long as I remember, I never had any interest in sex.”
Peter still wasn’t looking at him. “Have you, uh, ever had any?”
“Yeah. I was curious as a teenager. Everyone else was obsessed with it, so I thought I should at least give it a shot.”
Peter finally turned toward him. His mouth was quirked in a wry grin, but his eyes were warm and affectionate. “I’ll bet it wasn’t hard to find a willing partner.”
“Not in the least,” Neal agreed, flashing him his most endearing smile—the one he knew Peter couldn’t resist. “More than one, in fact. But I never did understand what all the fuss was about. And after a couple of tries, I didn’t want to repeat the experience.”
“Fair enough,” Peter said, nodding.
He sighed. “But you’re not convinced. Kinsey talks about this, Peter. Asexuality is a legitimate orientation.”
“It is, huh?“
“Yeah. And you're still not convinced.” Neal paused to shake his head. “Listen, I need you to know something.”
“What I had with Kate was real, Peter. It wasn’t sexual, but she was still my lover and my best friend. She was—she understood. Since she died, I didn’t think I’d ever find—“
He paused, fighting to keep his composure. He would not break down in front of Peter. “It was real,” he repeated.
Peter didn't answer that. He just held out his arm. "Come’ere.”
Neal toed off his shoes, curled up against him and just breathed him in. He wasn’t sure what Peter thought of Kate, but he knew the stubborn son of a bitch still thought there was something wrong with him.
But he decided not to care. He would educate the man later.
Peter settled into the corner of the couch with Neal still curled up against him. Why did this feel ok? He shouldn’t be so comfortable with another man like this. But this was Neal. The normal rules didn’t apply.
Maybe it had something to do with the security of knowing Neal was safe. Peter spent too much of his life worrying about his partner, fretting over his shenanigans.
So that’s why it was ok to have him lying here, where he could keep an eye on him. Keep an eye on him? Hell, he could stroke his hair, listen to him breathe, and feel his heart beat. And he kind of liked doing all three.
Neal was still curled up against him, sound asleep, when El came home. Peter watched her beam at them as she took off her coat and stepped over to the couch.
“Hi honey,” she whispered, tossing her coat over a chair as she gave Peter a peck on the lips. She paused to give Neal a peck on the forehead. “How was your date tonight?”
“We just made up,” he whispered back.
“You were fighting?”
“Yeah. It’s a long story. I’ll tell it to you as soon as we get Sleeping Beauty here up to his room.”
El peered down at him. “But he looks so comfortable.”
“I am comfortable,” Neal murmured, not even bothering to open his eyes.
“You’re awake?” Peter asked. “Come on, then. Time to get up.”
Neal shook his head, still keeping his eyes shut. “No. `Lizbeth, Peter was mean to me. I forgave him, but he shouldn’t make me get up.”
El stared straight into her husband’s eyes. “Peter?”
Peter sighed, recognizing defeat. “Ok. Would you grab us a couple of blankets?”
She grinned. “Sure.”
But Neal reached out and grabbed her hand, finally opening his eyes. “You don’t mind this, do you?”
She placed her other hand over his. “Sharing my husband with you? No. I'm used to it.”
He grinned. “It’s a platonic affair—with both of you. That ok?”
El gave him a puzzled look. Peter kept his mouth shut, figuring Neal should be the one to explain.
She took a seat on the edge of the couch. “Is that all you want? We shouldn’t be finding a nice girl to set you up with? Or, um, a guy?”
Neal shook his head. “No. I have what I want right here.” He paused to give her a wry grin. “I told you sex was overrated.”
Peter stared at his wife, holding his breath. He wasn’t ready to go another round with Neal about how normal or not normal this asexuality of his was.
But he shouldn’t have worried. El didn’t look shocked or upset or pitying. She just smiled as she released Neal’s hand and leaned over to kiss the ex-con lightly on the mouth. “I’m glad,” she said. “I didn’t want to lose our dates.”
She paused to look up at Peter, her eyes questioning. Peter understood immediately that she wasn’t worried about Neal. She was wondering how far her husband was willing to take this platonic affair.
Peter shrugged in response.
El smiled down at Neal. “Why don’t you two come upstairs to bed? The couch isn’t good for Peter’s back. ”
Neal made a face, but then he pushed himself off of Peter and sat up. “Sorry,” he said. “You can have your husband back.”
Peter snorted as he stood up, pulling Neal to his feet along with him. “She’s not consigning you to the guest room.”
“But you—” he stopped, and Peter had the pleasure of watching his mouth hang open. “Oh,” Neal managed at last.
El laughed and started up the stairs. Peter put his arm around his partner and urged him in the same direction. “Come on, Neal. Don’t worry. We promise not to ravish you.”
“But this is . . . I mean, you two don’t know—” Neal stopped again, breaking apart from him.
“What we’re getting into?” Peter finished.
“Well, you already know I snore. So does El, for the record. And I already know you use a ton of pillows and that, given half a chance, you'll cocoon yourself in the covers. El will figure that out quick enough and make accommodations.”
Neal grinned, shaking his head. “That’s not what I meant.”
“I know. We’ll figure the rest out. You coming?”
Neal stared at him for a moment, but then he smiled—a bright, warm smile that seemed to encompass Peter, El, Satchmo and the whole damn house. Next thing Peter knew, the ex-con had taken his hand.
That, apparently, was a yes. Peter rolled his eyes as he let Neal lead the way upstairs.