Author: J. Rosemary Moss
Genre: White Collar; OT3, Like Air verse (asexual Neal)
Disclaimer: Alas, I don't own White Collar or the characters
Summary: Sequel to Like Air. Neal realizes he needs an exit strategy--for Peter and Elizabeth's sake, if not his own.
Special Note: Much love and happiness to my dear friend and writing buddy Elrhiarhodan. Here's hoping for a marvelous year!
Neal stared at himself in the bathroom mirror. He had already washed and changed into pajamas. Classy silk pajamas--they should meet with Elizabeth’s approval, and Peter would only shake his head a little.
How would this play out? He considered the possibilities, and the fact that he might need an exit strategy. Yes, Peter and Elizabeth had invited him to stay--and not in the guestroom. They wanted more than just date nights with him; they wanted him to be a part of their married life. Neal felt his stomach clench; partly in fear and partly in anticipation.
He steadied himself and then frowned at his reflection. Should he just waltz into the master bedroom? Why not? There was no way he would allow Peter to see how much the invitation had unnerved him. So he plastered a confident smile on his face as he left the bathroom and strode down the hall.
But his swagger deserted him when he reached the threshold. He found himself hovering there, uncertain.
A single lamp served to bathe the room in a warm, soft glow. Neal’s eyes strayed to the bed and lingered on Elizabeth. She was partly under the covers, dressed in a mannish, over-sized pair of pajamas. Someone had probably bought them for Peter before she commandeered them. Her dark hair spilled over her shoulders as she turned toward her husband, who was telling her about some incident in the office today. Those blue eyes of hers--just a shade deeper than Neal’s--twinkled at the story.
Neal tore his eyes away from her and allowed them to rest on Peter. His pulse quickened as he watched how the lamplight brought out the amber specks in Peter’s eyes and gentled the rugged lines of his face, yet somehow accentuated the strength of his jaw line.
Neal smiled. No classy pajamas for Peter--he was in an old maroon t-shirt and, at a guess, a pair of sweats hidden beneath the covers. But they suited him.
Peter must have felt his stare, because he glanced over at him. “Coming to bed?”
“In a minute. Do me a favor--stay just as you are, both of you. Keep talking. I’ll be right back.”
He backed out of the room before Peter could object and headed for the guest room. He had stashed a few changes of clothes and some art supplies there a month and a half ago, when his ‘date nights’ with Peter and Elizabeth grew more frequent. His smile and his confident swagger returned as he found just what he needed.
He offered no explanation as he returned with pencil and sketchbook in hand--he just helped himself to a seat in the corner of the room and went to work.
Elizabeth furrowed her brow. “Neal?”
“Just keep talking,” Neal told her. “Pretend I’m not here.”
She started to object, but Peter came to his rescue by beginning another office story. Neal flashed him a grateful smile and then went to work.
The sketch began as primary shapes--circles, ovals and cylinders that gradually morphed into their heads bent close, Peter’s hand on Elizabeth‘s shoulder, and the hint of her breasts. Soon Neal’s hatching and cross-hatching revealed the crinkle of sheets, the pale, late-night stubble on Peter’s chin and the gloss on Elizabeth’s lips.
And all the while they kept up their conversation, talking and laughing about their days, sharing news of different friends. Neal wondered how often he had been the subject of their late night discussions.
Neal raised his eyebrows at this glimpse into their private life. Some part of him felt like a child who was learning how a grown-up couple behaved. He swallowed. Why would Peter want Neal to share this intimacy? These two were complete unto themselves. There was no room for a third.
But he wanted to be here--he wanted to fit into their white picket fence world, even if he had to fake it. But shouldn’t he put his exit strategy back into play? Make some graceful excuse and spare the happy couple the heartache of trying to include him in their romantic life?
He stood up when he finished the sketch, still undecided, and walked to Peter’s side of the bed. Peter took the drawing from him and smiled, then showed Elizabeth. Her eyes lit up, but she shook her head a little. “It’s missing someone.”
“Yeah,” Peter agreed, setting the sketchbook aside on a night table. Then he took the pencil from Neal’s hand and put that to rest as well. Neal tried to back away again, but Peter caught his wrist.
“Come on,” he ordered. “Lie down.”
“Ah, my anklet might chafe you, you know.”
Elizabeth smiled at that, but Peter just rolled his eyes as he held the covers up. “Get in here.”
Now was the time for his exit strategy. Neal opened his mouth to deliver a charming protest, but the look in Peter’s eyes stopped the words. It was the look that said he would brook no argument.
Damn. Neal had always found that look irresistible.
He climbed into the bed. Peter pulled him close, allowing Neal to nestle into the crook of his arm. Neal stiffened for a moment, but then let one arm flop across Peter’s chest as he breathed in the man. Peter smelled like soap and spearmint toothpaste.
“Comfortable?” Elizabeth asked, peeking over Peter’s body.
“Yeah,” Neal said, reveling in tight hold Peter had of him--a hold that told him in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t going anywhere. For some bizarre reason Peter seemed to think he belonged here. His wife, apparently, was equally convinced.
Well, Neal was not in the habit of trying to save his marks from their folly. So he let out a contented sigh instead. “Good night.”
“Night Neal,” Elizabeth said as she reached for the lamp.
“Night,” Peter added, planting a kiss on the top of his head.
Neal closed his eyes as the room went dark.