blue flamingos

Transformative Works

Fandom: White Collar

Category/Rated: Slash-Threesome/PG13

Year/Length: 2011/3450 words

Pairing: Neal Caffrey/Elizabeth Burke/Peter Burke

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: After three years, Neal's up for parole, and things start to change

Author's Notes: Originally posted here for 3ships

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

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"Neal, would you pass the butter please?"

Neal blinked, looked up at Elizabeth's expectant face, then back down to the butter dish sitting by his plate. "Sorry."

She smiled, patient and amused, which Neal figured meant she wasn't asking for the first time.

"All right, there?" Peter asked without looking up from the sports section.

"Yes," Neal said firmly, taking a sip of his coffee just to prove how totally fine and not at all off in his own world over breakfast he was.

Peter tipped his head slightly to eye Neal. "Then pass her the butter already."

"Oh. Sorry." He handed it over.

Elizabeth frowned gently. "You're distracted this morning."

"You're distracting."

"Neal..."

"I'm not even touching her!"

"You're flirting with her. Over breakfast in our house."

"You said flirting was okay. Actually, you said that a year ago." Neal gave Peter his very best concerned frown. "I don't think memory loss in an FBI agent is a good thing."

"He does have a point."

Peter shook his head. "I always said this would happen. I always knew you two would eventually gang up on me."

Elizabeth ignored him; Neal did his best not to laugh, even though the corners of Peter's lips were twitching. He loved starting the day like this, with Peter and Elizabeth and breakfast, being normal.

"Is it about next week?" Elizabeth asked, focusing back on Neal.

Neal hesitated. He knew the hearing shouldn't bother him – what would be one more year with the FBI, after all? – but logic didn't seem interested in listening to him on this one. He nodded.

"I'm sure it'll be fine." Elizabeth reached over to pat his hand, and Neal resisted the urge to turn his own and hold on. That might be okay on the actual day of the hearing, but not like this, eating breakfast. Some rules weren't meant to be broken, especially the ones he'd suggested in the first place.

"Three years of solid work for us," Peter agreed, the paper forgotten under his hand. "Barring the occasional –" He made an odd, tilting hand gesture.

"Blip?" Neal suggested.

"Aberration?" Elizabeth offered.

Peter nodded to her. "Aberration, yeah, thanks. Even Bancroft sent in a letter of support."

"Bancroft likes me," Neal said, none of the defensive edge the words had in his head coming out in his voice. "One of the guides at the New Museum knows both our names." Neal actually thought the guide – Taylor, her name was – had decided they were a couple, but that wasn't something Peter particularly needed to know, and he'd already told Elizabeth.

"Does he know you're an art thief?"

"She, and *alleged* art thief, and no."

"It's weird that you socialize with my boss." Peter looked across the table to Elizabeth, who was eating her toast. "Isn't it weird?"

"He socializes with us," Elizabeth said with a shrug.

"That's different."

"You're just jealous that none of the staff at the Met know your first name."

"No, they just know me as Agent Burke." Peter drained the last of his coffee, which was a sure sign that Neal was about to be ordered out the door like a child dragging his feet on the way to school.

"I invited you to the Pau with me," he said. "It's not my fault you said no."

"It's your fault that you and my boss's boss go to art galleries and then drag Diana into discussing art when you should be working."

Neal offered a small, less-than-penitent shrug, but didn't push it. He could hear a note of something like jealousy, or maybe envy, in Peter's voice, like maybe he wanted to be part of those conversations.

"He has a point, honey. You don't actually like most of the artwork Neal and Agent Bancroft go to look at."

Peter took a breath as though he was going to speak, then looked at his watch instead. "Come on, time to go. Got everything?"

Neal went to fetch his hat and jacket while Peter and Elizabeth kissed goodbye. He never watched them if he could help it – he was definitely jealous, whatever he'd said a year ago. One more week, maybe. Or a year. It hadn't seemed that long, before the hearing date had been set. Now it seemed like an eternity.

"Neal," Peter said sharply.

"Coming," Neal said, offering Elizabeth a mock-forlorn wave over his shoulder and making good his escape, before anyone noticed how neatly they'd gotten off Elizabeth's original topic.

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They'd been at Peter and Elizabeth's house – Elizabeth had invited Neal for dinner, after Kate was killed and Fowler turned out not to be the guy after all and Mozzie was shot and recovered and Kate's killer was finally, finally in jail. It had been over, all of it, for a month or so, just long enough for things to start feeling normal again, and then Elizabeth had caught Neal's hand as they passed in the kitchen doorway, him with a fresh bottle of wine, her going back for a serving spoon for dessert, and tilted her head, said, "Can I?"

Neal had frozen, knowing what the question was, knowing what his answer was – and what the other answer was, how the two didn't go together.

"No," he'd said, pulling back, looking away from whatever her face might have been about to show, to Peter, who was leaning over the back of his chair to watch them. "Peter, I can't."

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Peter raised his glass, catching Neal's eye. "To our favorite ex-convict."

Neal grinned, tipping his glass to meet the others. He'd only had half a glass of wine, but he felt full of bubbles, happier than he could remember being in ages. Maybe since before he'd gone to prison.

"I can't believe a parole board had the poor sense to let you loose," Diana teased, her eyes bright and her arm around Chrissy's waist.

"I think it's great," Chrissy said. "No more excuses for not coming to see the Knicks with me."

Neal made a face. "Basketball's really not my thing."

"Learn," Chrissy and Diana said in unison.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Are you going to stay here, now you can go anywhere?" Jones asked.

Neal saw Peter tense, too subtly for anyone else to notice. That was one of the many questions neither he nor Elizabeth had asked in the weeks between Neal getting the invitation to his own parole board and the hearing that afternoon that had given him most of his freedom back. "There's a world outside New York?" he asked, keeping his voice carefully light.

It made the others laugh. "How did you turn into such a New Yorker?" Peter asked. The tension was still there, but he was masking it well, his smile open and warm.

"New York has everything," Neal said, getting into his argument. "Museums, galleries, Fashion Week, the FBI…"

"We have offices other places than just here," Peter pointed out.

"Yeah, but I like this one the best." Neal smiled at Peter, who smiled back, just looking at him, and it probably would have gone on too long for public, in front of Jones and Diana and Chrissy, if Diana hadn't looked up at the same moment and waved.

Neal heard Elizabeth's familiar heels before he turned, and wasn't surprised to see June behind her. Both of them were smiling, looking so *pleased,* and Neal had to close his eyes for a moment. He'd always had friends, people who looked out for him and cared for him and were pleased for him, but this was different somehow. Like he'd always thought family was supposed to feel, even with Mozzie in Italy with Alex for six months on some job they wouldn't tell him about.

"I take it we're celebrating?" Elizabeth asked, already reaching down to hug Neal before he could nod. "I'm so proud of you, sweetie," she said, softly in his ear, and Neal pressed his face against her shoulder for a moment longer, so no-one would see his face.

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Peter had asked him, over lunch on a quiet day with nothing but paperwork for the case they'd just wrapped up, thanks mainly to Neal's genius, and an old contact of his, Joe.

"So," Peter had said, stirring cream into his coffee and not quite looking at Neal. "Joe."

"Anything you've heard about the two of us is pure speculation, and also well outside the statute of limitations."

"For once, I'm not talking about crimes you *allegedly* committed." Peter had looked up then, catching Neal's eye, and Neal had known what was coming before Peter could ask.

"Yeah, he was," he'd said. "Him and Kate, before he left."

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"Is he always late?" Neal asked, stretching his legs and enjoying the sun on his face. He'd been resigned and on parole for nearly three weeks, and was discovering that it had definite benefits; lunch with Elizabeth and Peter was high on the list.

"Always," Elizabeth confirmed. "He usually blamed you."

"And you believed him?" Neal asked, mock-hurt. Elizabeth just crinkled her forehead at him, her sign that she knew he knew the answer. Neal grinned back. "I think I deserve a reward for being on time."

"You don't have anywhere else to be," Elizabeth pointed out. "I'd expect you to be on time."

"No reward?" Neal asked, putting on his best charming face. Elizabeth's expression twitched, some emotion there and gone before Neal could figure out what it was. She leaned back slightly in her chair; just enough to put her too far from Neal for him to touch her without leaning in, which she never did. Either she was in his space or she wasn't, never hovering on the edge, and he'd never thought that she did any of deliberately.

"Consider your coffee a reward," she said, her voice light.

"Elizabeth?" Neal asked.

Elizabeth looked down and slightly away, then back to him. "You know that Peter's worried you're going to leave New York, now that you can."

"Yeah."

"He was hoping that you'd stay at the FBI as a consultant."

"I know. He asked me. He even had a contract drawn up ready for me. The pay rise was amazing."

Elizabeth smiled, faint and concerned, but didn't say anything. Neal knew she was waiting for him to explain – what he'd done, why he'd done it, what he was going to do next – but it wasn't fair to do it when Peter wasn't there as well, nor was it something he wanted to talk about at a street café.

"Here," he said instead, leaning in to brush a hand across Elizabeth's cheek. She looked a question at him. "Eyelash."

"Did you make a wish?" she asked, accepting the change of subject.

"I don't believe in wishes." Neal heard the bittersweet tone slide into his voice, where he hadn't intended for it to get.

Elizabeth didn't say anything, just covered his hand with hers, and they sat like that until Peter hurried up the street with apologies and a kiss to Elizabeth's cheek.

"Are you busy tomorrow night?" Neal asked as they were saying goodbye after lunch.

Elizabeth and Peter looked at each other, then shook their heads in unison. "Are you planning to take us out?" Elizabeth asked.

"I was hoping I could take myself in." Neal winced; that hadn't come out phrased quite right. "I mean, invite myself. In. To dinner, with you."

"Smooth," Peter teased, and Neal stuck his tongue out. "If you're going to be a five year old about it, I think it's definitely best to keep you at home."

Home. "I'll bring dessert," Neal promised. "And wine."

"Then we'll see you tomorrow night." Elizabeth rested one hand on his shoulder and leaned in to kiss his cheek. "Enjoy your afternoon of leisure."

Neal mirrored the kiss, breathing in the light, floral scent of her perfume. Peter was standing half way between the two of them, and he caught Neal's eye when Neal stepped back. One of Peter's eyebrows went up in clear challenge. Neal had never been very good at backing down from a challenge.

He shifted his weight, rested his hand on Peter's shoulder for balance like Elizabeth had done, and kissed him, so fast Peter probably didn't even feel it, on his cheek while the New York lunchtime crowd moved past them and no-one said anything.

Peter blinked as Neal moved back. Neal decided he wasn't quite ready to see what Peter might do, and turned neatly on his heel, throwing a wave over his shoulder. "See you tomorrow," he called, and let the crowd swallow him up.

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"It's not that I don't – I want to," Neal had said, rolling his spoon across his knuckles and back again, watching the light catch on it instead of looking at Peter and Elizabeth. "I want to."

"It's all right," Elizabeth had said gently. She'd sounded sympathetic, worried for Neal. He'd hunched in on himself a bit further without meaning too, and hated, a little, that they'd managed to turn him back into someone who did things without thinking about them or without meaning to. Peter had always said that having a constant front was a bad thing, but Neal had always felt better one step removed from the world. "You know that – Neal, we will always be your friends. That won't change because you don't want to sleep with us."

"I do." Neal had risked a quick glance up, but both of their faces had been carefully blank. See, Peter? Sometimes the front is a good thing. "I do want to, I'm not just saying that so you won't…" He couldn't finish that one. "I just can't. Not – yet. Like this," and his hand had moved towards Peter without him meaning it to at all, making his point for him.

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"So, Neal." Elizabeth handed over a bowl of chocolate mousse. "Have you had any more thoughts about what you're going to do with the rest of your life?" She smiled, warmly, inviting him to share.

"Round the world tour?" Peter suggested.

"Not exactly." Neal twirled a spiral pattern in his dessert, then ate a spoonful. Unfortunately, Peter and Elizabeth needed a lot more than the space of a bite of dessert to lose the thread of a conversation, and were still looking at him when he looked back up. "You know I have the bakery?"

"I do have a vague recollection," Peter agreed.

"Theresa, the manager, wanted some art work for the walls, she asked me to paint something."

"Oh, God," Peter murmured.

Elizabeth patted his hand. "Go on, Neal."

For possibly the first time ever, Neal really wished Peter's phone would ring, calling him back for a case. He shouldn't have started this conversation. "You know The Last Supper?" He looked up just enough to see them both nod. "I repainted it, in the Greatest Cake, with our regular customers. They really liked it."

Elizabeth laughed. "That sounds wonderful. Are you going to do others?"

"Yeah. I already did two more for the bakery, and Theresa's girlfriend as the Mona Lisa."

"Art forgery as a career," Peter said dismally.

"It's not forgery, it’s transformative. I sign my own name and everything." Neal stood up determinedly, and went over to the small bag he'd brought with him. "I brought you something."

"You already brought dessert and wine, you didn't need to bring a gift as well," Elizabeth said.

"This isn't a hostess gift." Neal pushed himself upright, his hands nervously behind his back. "It's a – I don't know. Thank you for the last three years gift."

"You still didn't need to," Peter said firmly, but he accepted the paper-wrapped package when Neal offered it.

Elizabeth moved round the table to look over Peter's shoulder as he pulled the paper away, then turned the painting the right way up. Neither of them said anything.

Caillebotte, Rainy Day

"It's Gustav Caillebotte," Neal said to fill the silence. "Paris Street, Rainy Day. You keep saying you'd like to go to Paris, and I thought maybe…"

"It's beautiful," Elizabeth said quietly. "Though I really think you should have given Peter a mustache like the original."

Neal laughed, startled into it.

"There's something missing though," she added.

"She's right," Peter agreed. He touched the painting, the couple looking out the side of the frame from under a shared umbrella. "Where are you?"

Neal stepped up next to him, resting one hand on the back of Peter's chair. "You can't see me?" He pointed, not quite touching the canvas, to the man on the very edge of the painting, his back to the viewer, his umbrella tilted to pass by the couple. "The original wears a different hat."

Elizabeth laughed. "He's right, sweetie." She leaned over Peter to kiss Neal's cheek. "Thank you, it's a truly unique gift."

"They're popular," Neal said. "People ask about them in the bakery, and this is what I know how to do. What I'm good at. So I thought maybe I'd try doing it for a living."

Peter tipped his head back to rest against Elizabeth's stomach and look up at Neal. "I should have known you'd come up with something like this."

"Because I'm a forger at heart?"

"Because you're an artist at heart," Peter corrected, and, stupidly, Neal felt himself blushing.

"There's something else as well," he said. "You remember the offer? After everything with Kate?" Both Elizabeth's and Peter's faces fell slightly. "I wondered if it's still open?"

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"Sometimes you tell people I belong to you," Neal had explained, so tense he felt like he'd crack if anyone touched him. Peter couldn't throw him back in prison for this, but he hadn't felt confident in the knowledge right then. "I know you don't mean it literally, but it means something. You got me out of prison, you kept me out. Both of you."

"I don't understand," Peter had said. Elizabeth had held his hand silently, and Neal had thought that they probably didn't even realize what a united front they looked like.

"If I was sleeping with you, I wouldn't ever be able to trust that I wasn't doing it because I felt like I had to," Neal had said, as simply as he could. "And it would start to be that I was doing it because I felt like I had to. It wouldn't matter what you did, I wouldn't be able to trust myself. I don't want it like that."

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"I thought you couldn't," Peter said mildly.

"I couldn't." They'd agreed to table the discussion in the end, because Neal hadn't been able to make Peter understand, though Elizabeth had said that she thought she did, and Peter's insistence that he wouldn't ever force Neal had started to hurt more than it should. "Back then, I couldn't, but it's different now." Neal looked at them both, so close, at their faces in the painting, turned to look away from him. "For me, it's different."

Peter and Elizabeth looked at each other. Neal expected it to be Elizabeth who made the first move, whatever it was, but he'd forgotten, maybe for a second, that they were both smart people who understood him better than he liked. It was Peter who held out a hand and said, "Can I kiss you?"

Neal took Peter's hand, aware that his own was trembling. He'd thought this would be the easy part – everything was easier than art that was his – but he'd been wrong. A good half of him wanted to pull his hand free and flee back to the safety of June's.

He held on instead, and let Peter pull himself up until they were looking at each other on level ground. For a long moment, Peter just held his gaze. Then, he leaned in, slowly, and stopped, not quite close enough to kiss.

Neal closed the distance, and kissed him. It was sweet – sweet like chocolate mousse for dinner, sweet like something he'd waited three years for, that the other person had waited for without understanding why he was being asked to wait.

Neal drew back carefully, his hand still in Peter's, surprised to find the room still brightly lit, his painting on the table. He held out his other hand to Elizabeth, who closed the gap quickly, her face bright for the moment he got to look at it before she kissed him.

"We're going to need a bigger bed," she said softly, taking Peter's free hand in hers.

"We're going to need another front door key," Peter added.

A hat stand, Neal thought. Maybe a key to June's place, or maybe he'd need to find his own. Paints and canvas, a sketchpad he could leave at Peter and Elizabeth's. A visitor pass to the FBI. A website for his new venture.

And other things. Chocolate body paint. A Knicks cap. Coffee with Diana and Jones. Red wine on Saturday nights and breakfast in bed on Sunday mornings and Neal's mom's recipe for carrot cake that he hadn't made in years. Things they didn't need, just wanted.

"Do you want to sleep here tonight?" Elizabeth asked.

Things it was okay to want, now. Okay to have.

Neal said, "Yes."


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