five orders Peter gave Neal in public
(set after Boundary Conditions)
"This sort of thing never happened to me before I started working with you," Peter said accusingly.
"Me neither," said Cruz.
Neal looked around. "You haven’t investigated a beauty pageant before?"
"No. And I hadn't held a party for supermodels, either, before last year." Peter had his FBI-scowl on, the one he used as a shield, as he elbowed his way through the sea of sequins.
"Hi," said Neal, and, "How's it going? That's a lovely dress. You're a flautist? Fantastic."
Cruz was rolling her eyes; Peter paused for long enough to snatch Neal's arm and tug him towards the office of the pageant director. "For one day, one day, do you think you could try not to flirt with everyone you meet?"
It didn't have the serious ring to it that Neal was learning to associate with Peter's true commands, but that was what made it tempting. Peter still had a few lessons of his own to learn.
"I don't get it," Jones muttered to Cruz, later. "Is he sick?"
"I think he's fucking with the boss," Cruz muttered back, and Neal almost burst out laughing, but he kept up his stride, half a pace behind Peter's shoulder, and pretended not to have heard.
It took Peter almost half the day to catch on, but the fourth time Neal politely evaded the overtures of a perfectly-coiffed young woman with amazing legs, his eyes narrowed. Then widened, in an entirely unprofessional wonder.
Neal looked back at him, trying to convey everything in the brief time and silent space that they had. It scared him, sometimes, when he thought about it: just how far he'd go for this man. But Peter hadn't asked anything of him that he wasn't prepared to give, and Neal was starting to believe that he never would. That was trust. That was the intangible rope around his wrists.
"You," said Peter, and stopped.
"You continually underestimate me, Peter."
"Agent Burke?" Jones stuck his head in the door. "Something you should see."
"We're on our way," said Peter, but he didn't move his eyes from Neal's face.
Neal really thought he was being subtle about it all, but Peter must have noticed him rifling through the closet two nights earlier, because just as Neal was idly trying to choose between royal blue and peacock blue, Peter looked down from his contemplation of the elevator's red-lit numbers and said, "No."
"Whatever's giving you that expression. No."
The elevator wasn't all that crowded, but Neal shuffled sideways, making a bit more room for the blonde girl in the wheelchair -- she flashed him a grin of thanks -- and only incidentally pressing up close against Peter's side. He took the opportunity to finger the man's suit jacket, mentally pricing the material. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said, winking at the girl. She couldn't be more than sixteen; she went a little pink.
"Neal," Peter said sternly, as the elevator halted. "You are not to buy me clothes for my birthday. No ties, no cufflinks, nothing. I have clothes. They're perfectly good clothes."
"That's your opinion," said Neal, and the girl stifled a giggle as she rolled herself out into the foyer with an expert swish of her hands.
It was all worth it, two weeks later, when Peter looked up from the pile of men's accessories adorning the kitchen table and fixed Neal with a hard look that promised all sorts of things. Neal felt a thrilled warmth sweep down his spine and legs, anticipatory.
"Technically," he said, before Peter could say anything, "I didn't buy anything. Elizabeth bought them. I just helped her choose."
"It's true, honey." Elizabeth leaned over her folded arms. "Ooh, try on the blue shirt, we've been dying to see how it looks."
Peter's mouth was betraying the glare with a telltale twitch. "You and your loopholes," he said to Neal. "I guess I'll have to be more explicit in future."
Neal smiled and slid his own bare foot across Peter's beneath the table, a motion which sparked up recollection of the feelings he'd had when they'd bought the stuff in the first place: the fierce, wonderful tension that came from dancing between Peter's lines.
"I guess you will," he said.
"Are we ready?" Hughes looked up, and Neal gave him a cheerful nod.
"Ready to roll."
"Neal," Peter said. His hand dug into Neal's arm, hard enough to hurt. "None of your improvisations this time. Be careful. That's an order."
Neal's breath got stuck just below the back of his tongue, because Peter didn't -- he hadn't, at least, not in front of anyone else --
But nobody was looking at them strangely. Nobody thought anything was happening. And it was true: it was all happening in the negative space between Peter's palm and Neal's own skin, it was in the unflinching steel of Peter's eyes.
The metal of the van's side was suddenly very hot beneath Neal's fingers. He let go. The sparkling energy of the act, of every role he'd ever played, was still in his veins, but he forced himself above it.
"I'll be fine," he said, meaning: yes.
"I'll have the Spanish omelette, no olives. And coffee." Elizabeth handed her menu to the waitress, who tucked it under her arm.
"What would you like?" she asked Neal.
"Hmm." Neal worried his lower lip between his teeth in an elaborate gesture, and then leaned sideways so that he could whisper in Peter's ear.
"What?" Peter muttered.
"I think I'd like to watch you fuck Elizabeth while she's sucking my cock, do you think we could try that tonight? I'd like to see your face --"
That was as far as he got before Peter managed to regain control over his breath and shove him backwards. Neal had already prepared an expression of studied innocence.
"Behave," Peter told him firmly.
"Does that ever work?" the waitress asked curiously.
Peter -- yes. Peter smirked. "More often than you'd think."
Neal wanted to say something clever, something outrageous, but Elizabeth was watching him with a challenge in her bright lovely eyes and Neal's body was conditioned, by now, to that particular note in Peter's voice. He sighed.
"I'd like the mushrooms on toast."
Neal had lost count of the number of times the clippers had slid between his sock and the plastic of the anklet, but he did appreciate ceremony, and so he kept as quiet as everyone else in the room as Peter removed the most visible and the least important restraint in their relationship.
"Right, that's it," said Donnelly, who'd only joined the division eight months ago, but who'd become part of the furniture almost as rapidly as Neal himself. "I'm going to start locking up my jewels."
Neal glanced up from his ankle -- bare, and startlingly light -- to smile at her. "You haven’t got any jewels, Sonja."
"That's all you know, Caffrey." She smiled back, and waggled her engagement ring in his face.
"A toast!" said Jones, and everyone raised their glasses of -- well, it was sparkling grape juice, because maybe it was a Friday and maybe they didn't have anywhere urgent to be, but it was still only two in the afternoon. "To the White Collar division's newest free consultant."
"Free, my ass," said Neal. "You guys are going to be paying me a proper wage for once."
It was a good party, as office parties went. Small and a bit awkward and infused with an honest happiness. Cruz hugged him and talked to him excitedly about her promotion, and Hughes stepped in just long enough to eat half of the pretzels, and Neal turned his hat around in his hands and thought about the concept of freedom.
"All right!" Peter said eventually. "Out, out. I'm sure everyone has work they should be doing. Neal," he added, once the slow exodus had begun, "you stay."
After three and a half years he had it down to a fine art by now -- Peter Burke, the best and truest man that Neal knew -- so his voice was casual, almost impatient. It was, as ever, all in his eyes. Neal leaned against the wall near the door, nodded at Donnelly as she slipped away to her desk, and only then found the strength to glance back at him.
Peter was looking at the table, where the anklet lay dark and abandoned; broken. From there he looked at Neal's feet, then -- slowly -- up to his face. "Stay," he said again.
"I'm not going anywhere," said Neal.