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19 April 2014 @ 06:13 pm
FIC: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner  
Title: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
Author: pooh_collector
Word Count: 3,330
Characters/Pairings: Peter/Neal/Elizabeth
Rating: PG
Warnings: None
Spoilers: This is an auish tag to S2 Payback
Summary: The cat comes out of the bag. Written as a bday gift for elrhiarhodan. Hides head in hunny jar of shame for the lateness. Plot bunny provided by angelita26.


Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Despite a long and exhausting week filled with emotional upheaval, Neal was up with the sun on Saturday morning. Carefully, he eased out of the bed he shared as often as possible with his lovers, slipped his dark blue silk robe over his bare torso and wandered downstairs.

In the kitchen, he let Satchmo outside, put on a pot of coffee and then sat down at the island, the events of the previous Thursday running through his mind.

“What do you want me to do?” He had asked as he stood with his back to the windows in Peter’s office.

“Whatever it takes to bring him home,” El had replied. And then Neal did as El commanded.

But his efforts, though ultimately successful, had their ramifications and now everything he cared about was on the line. Neal pulled his to do list over in front of him. There was a lot to accomplish before their dinner guest arrived at 7PM.

• Clean the house – not that it was really dirty, El never let that happen, but dog hair.
• Lots of groceries to buy – ingredients for appetizers, vegetables, new potatoes, ingredients for the chocolate mousse he planned for desert.
• A stop at the butcher – Peter had wanted to just throw some steaks on the grill, but Neal had insisted on something more fitting the importance of this dinner and El had agreed with him, so crown roast of lamb was on the menu.
• Pick up flowers – nice ones, for El, because this was all his fault and Peter’s and she deserved them.
• Wine for El and himself – because he was going to require copious amounts of alcohol to make it through the evening.
• Beer for Peter and their guest – and not the cheap Heisler that Peter usually consumed.

Of course his most important task of the day wasn’t on the list – DON’T FREAK OUT. And, in truth he really shouldn’t need that on the list. He was a conman after all, and a good one. It was his stock in trade to be convincing, to sway people, to have anyone do or believe anything he wanted.

But this was different, this wasn’t a con. This was the truth. And, the truth he knew had always been hard for him.

To make matters worse, the man coming to dinner had always been able to see right through him, as if Neal George Caffrey was composed of clear plastic wrap and not flesh and bone.

He was certain that this was going to be the worst dinner of his life. And, since every dinner after this one was likely to be served in a prison cafeteria that was saying a lot.

Neal was in the midst of picturing himself in an orange jumpsuit shuffling through the cafeteria line ugly plastic tray in hand when a set of warm, strong arms wrapped around his waist.

“Stop it.” Peter ordered, as he squeezed Neal gently. “I could hear your wheels spinning all the way upstairs.”

“Sorry,” Neal replied relaxing into Peter’s arms. “There’s a lot riding on this dinner.”

“There is,” Peter agreed. “But we both know it’s time to come clean.”

“Honesty is the best policy has never really been my motto, Peter.”

“Maybe it’s time for you to have a new motto.”

“Even if it costs you your career and me my freedom?”

“It won’t.” Peter’s voice was steady and determined and Neal wanted to believe that the conviction wasn’t forced, but he knew better, he knew Peter like he knew the back of his own hand.

“Okay,” Neal replied hoping to avoid yet another rehashing of the reasons why things had come to this point and why they were likely to only get worse.

Peter extricated himself from his partner and sat down on the barstool next to him. “Neal, this is our best chance of keeping the life we have together. You know that right?”

Neal turned to look at Peter. “I do, I just wish things could be different.” He lifted the leg of his pajama bottoms revealing his anklet to illustrate his meaning.

“Me too, and one day they will be. But, I’m not willing to keep what I feel for you locked away until that time. Life is short and I need you and El in mine for as long as I can have you.”

Life was short. If Neal had harbored any doubts about the truth of that phrase, they had been eradicated this week. Neal nodded. “Me too, of course.”

Peter put his hand around the back of Neal’s neck and squeezed lightly. “It’s going to be okay. We’ve gotten through worse than a dinner.”

Neal nodded, his mind flashing back to two days ago when Peter had been kidnapped by Keller and how close he had come to losing Peter that day, how close he had come to losing his reason for breathing. “Yeah, we have,” he finally replied quietly.

***

By late afternoon the house was spotless, the wine was purchased, the flowers were sitting in a vase on the dining room table perfectly arranged, the beer was chilling in the fridge, the roast was in the oven with the potatoes, the mousse was almost ready to go into the refrigerator to chill and Neal was about as nervous as he had ever been in his entire life.

There was no mistaking his feelings from the frenetic way he was moving around the kitchen, refusing all offers of help, muttering to himself as chocolate splashed across the counters and his once pristine apron.

When he ran his hand through his hair smearing his cheekbone and his unruly locks with the chocolate confection, El could stand it no more. She took the wooden spoon from his hand, kissed him on the cheek savoring the taste of chocolate and Neal for just a moment and then ordered him out of her kitchen.

He looked at her wide eyed and then turned his gaze around the room. “El, I still need to finish the appetizers, and the vegetables and the mousse needs to set and chill.”

“No, you don’t. I need to finish the appetizers, get the vegetables steamed and put the mousse in to chill. You need to clean the chocolate off your face and go take Satchmo for a long walk.”

“But…”

“NO buts, go, now, before I banish you permanently from my domain,” she ordered with a smile to soften her words.

Neal blinked at her, as if she had spoken in one of the few languages he wasn’t fluent in. Then his face fell slightly and he turned and walked away.

Elizabeth could hear him still muttering to himself as he climbed the stairs, hopefully on his way to the bathroom to clean up.

After she got the mousse in the fridge she went and found Peter in his small office on the third floor.

“Hey,” she said by way of a greeting.

“Hey hon,” he replied turning in his desk chair to face her. “How’s it going down there?”

“About as poorly as I expected,” she stated.

Peter sighed. “I was hoping that if we just let him do his host with the most thing today, he would settle down, relax a little.”

El shook her head. “I think he’s just getting more and more keyed up. I just had to kick him out of the kitchen. I told him to clean up and take Satchmo for a walk. I think you should probably go with him.”

Peter frowned, his eyebrows knotted. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” They both knew that Peter wasn’t the best with dealing with strong emotions.

“I am. Peter he thinks that this is all his fault. That in one evening we could all lose everything because of how he handled himself this week.”

“That’s ridiculous. The three of us are all part of this relationship and it was only a matter of time before one of us let something slip.” Peter countered.

“I know that and you know that, but Neal doesn’t. And, I think that before this dinner happens he needs to be on the same page as us.”

“Okay, time to go walk Satch.”

Peter was waiting at the front door with Satchmo on his leash when Neal finally made it back downstairs after cleaning the mousse off his cheek and out of his hair.

“Ready?” Peter asked.

Neal nodded and then walked past Peter and out the townhouse door.

Peter let Neal stew for a couple of blocks while Satchmo took his own sweet doggie time stopping to sniff at every tree and fire hydrant. Finally, he broke the silence. “What’s eating you?”

“Not dinner,” his partner replied irritably.

Peter raised an eyebrow. “You’re mad because El kicked you out of the kitchen?”

“Yes,” Neal replied immediately. “No,” he continued.

Peter laughed lightly. Then he stopped walking and took Neal by the elbow stopping his partner’s forward motion as well. “Come here.”

Neal hesitated just a moment before stepping into Peter’s personal space.

Peter stepped in closer and wrapped his arms around Neal, right on the street, in full view of anyone who might be watching, just a few blocks from the Burke’s home.

Neal stiffened and tried to pull away, but Peter tightened his hold. “It’s going to be okay. I love you, El loves you and we’re not going to lose you,” Peter said.

Neal dropped his forehead down onto Peter’s shoulder. “You can’t promise me that.”

“Yes, I can.”

This time Neal managed to get loose from Peter’s arms and he looked at this partner hard. “No, you can’t. Keller would have killed you, Peter. El and I could have lost you in a heartbeat this week.”

“That wasn’t your fault, Neal.” Peter stated reasonably.

“Yes, it was.” Neal shook his head and took another step away from his partner. “I know I’m not responsible for Matthew Keller’s actions, but I’m sure as hell responsible for his presence in our lives.”

Peter nodded. “That’s true, on some level. But the life we live with the FBI has risks, it always will, whether they come from people you used to know or whether they come from people involved in the latest case to come across our desks. That’s what we signed up for. And, we can’t live our lives worrying about who might try to kill either of us next. We have better things to do,” he added lasciviously, snaking his hand around to cup Neal’s ass as he waggled an eyebrow.

Neal sighed. ”Assuming we make it through dinner tonight.”

“We will.” Peter said as he patted Neal’s ass. “That’s not your fault either, you know that right?”

“Peter, I called you babe, in front of Jones, and Diana and Reese Hughes.”

“I said I love you, first,” Peter countered.

“They couldn’t hear you on the other end of the phone. If only I had hit the speaker button again instead of picking up the handset.”

“And then everyone would have heard me tell you how much I love you, instead of just your response.” Peter argued.

“And, that would have been so much better.” Neal replied with a smirk.

It was the closest thing to a smile that Peter had seen on Neal’s face in two days. And, Peter was really, really glad to see it. “We’re going to make this okay.”

Neal sighed, the slight smile falling from his face. Then he nodded and leaned into Peter. “I know.”

***

At 7 PM exactly, the doorbell rang. Peter brushed his hands on his jeans and went to answer the door while Neal placed a platter of appetizers on the coffee table in front of the sofa.

When Peter opened the door, Reese Hughes was standing on the stoop dressed in his usual suit complete with tie and suspenders. His face was inscrutable.

"Reese, come in please," Peter said as he stood aside to allow Hughes to enter the house.

“Peter,” Reese said in greeting as he stepped past his subordinate and into the foyer.

“Can I take your jacket?”

Reese shrugged off his dark grey suit jacket and handed it to Peter who hung it on a hanger by the door. “Come on in, there are appetizers and can I get you a beer or a glass of wine?”

Reese followed Peter into the living room. Neal was standing in the middle of the floor, his back taut, his shoulders stiff. Peter couldn’t decide whether he was affecting a defensive stance or if his partner had simply petrified where he stood like some ancient tree.

Reese took one look at Neal and turned back to Peter, “I’ll take that beer.” Then he faced Neal again. “Caffrey, sit.”

Neal sat immediately in one of the lounge chairs, saying nothing, but smiling wanly. Reese sat opposite him, on the sofa, the coffee table, set with a spread of appetizers the only line of defense between them.

Finally, Neal broke the silence. “How was your day, sir?”

“As good as could be expected, under the circumstances.” Hughes replied cryptically, as Peter returned to the room with two open bottles of beer in his hand.

Peter handed one of the bottles to Hughes and then sat down in the other lounge chair. “Help yourself to the appetizers. Elizabeth is just finishing up a couple of things in the kitchen. She’ll be out in a moment.”

Hughes nodded, looked skeptically at the platter and then picked up a bacon-wrapped date.

“I’m going to go make sure Elizabeth doesn’t need any help.” Neal said, jumping up from his seat.

Peter caught himself admiring his partner’s ass as Neal hightailed it toward the kitchen. Then he remembered who else was in the room and why and turned his gaze away from his partner and back to his boss guiltily.

Reese was looking at him thoughtfully.

“It’s not what you think Reese, really.”

“On the contrary Peter, I’m sure it’s exactly what I think. But, we should wait for Elizabeth and Neal to have this conversation.”

Peter nodded, sat back in his chair and sipped at his beer.

In the kitchen El was just pulling the roast out of the oven to rest, when Neal darted into the room. She set the pan down on the counter as he poured more wine into the glass he had already filled twice this evening. She went to him, took the bottle from his hand, a move that elicited a moment of déjà vu and then wrapped him in her arms. She reached up and kissed his cheek softly and then said, “Breathe.”

She could feel his chest expand against hers as he followed her instructions. “Good boy. We can do this, you know.”

Neal nodded. She gave him a squeeze and then released him. He picked up his glass and took a long swig and then put it back on the counter. “Fortification,” he said.

“More like the road to intoxication,” El replied with a smile. “Come on, destiny awaits,” she foretold, taking his hand in hers.

Then they made their way back into the living room, hand in hand and Neal thought maybe he could do this, as long as El didn’t let go.

Peter followed Reese’s eyes and turned to see El and Neal walk into the living room with their hands linked. Neal looked a little pale, but steadier than he had seemed all day with his fingers wrapped around El’s.

He sat back down in the chair he had so recently vacated and El sat on its arm, their hands still clasped together. They were clearly a unified front, as strong and long as the Great Wall of China. Peter felt a sudden frisson of love and pride warm his chest.

“Reese, it’s good to see you. Thank you for coming,” El greeted their guest amiably.

“Thank you for the invitation.”

“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes, but I think we should talk first,” El continued. The three men in the room nodded in agreement.

Peter looked over at El and she smiled, encouraging him to start. He took a deep breath, cleared his throat and said, “I’m in love with Neal Caffrey.” He paused briefly, to let the truth behind his words sink in, embracing the way saying them out loud made him feel. “So is Elizabeth,” he continued.

She nodded firmly in assent.

Then Neal said, “And I love them both too, very much.”

Reese was frowning. He turned his gaze on Peter. “You realize there are rules against fraternizing with CIs? You know there are very good reasons for those rules?”

Peter nodded. “I do. This isn’t something I planned on, Reese. But, it’s also not something I can deny. What I feel for Neal is equivalent to what I feel for Elizabeth. I know that sounds odd, maybe even wrong to you, but I love him.

“Our feelings for each other haven’t affected our work. Our closure rate is the same, our professional relationship is just that, professional. And, I assure you we can and will keep it that way.”

Reese sat back against the sofa and scrutinized the three people before him. Peter looked sincere and determined, Elizabeth mirrored her husband, and Caffrey, Caffrey looked like he was on the verge of throwing up. That more than anything, was the deciding factor in Reese’s response.

He leaned forward again and took a healthy swig of his beer before speaking. “I know I look like a conventional man,” he began, pointing to his striped red tie and suspenders, “and perhaps in most ways I am, but I’m not an unfeeling one.

“I understand that all these new-fangled relationships aren’t really new, just newly seeing the light of day. So, while I don’t really get the logistics, I get that love is love.”

Peter visibly relaxed, an easy smile finding its way onto his face. El’s grin was broader, it made her look radiant. Caffrey wasn’t smiling. But, he looked relieved in place of nauseated.

“That said,” Reese continued, the sternness he was famous for returning to his voice, “I will not put up with any further line crossing in the office. You’re closure rate had better not slip, there will be absolutely no public displays of affection, you will not in any way let anyone other than myself know that you are involved in a personal relationship. I will not be able to protect you if that happens.”

“Diana and Jones heard me too,” Neal whispered.

Reese nodded. “I’m well aware of that. They’re both loyal to Peter and to the division. I’ll speak with them. It won’t be an issue.”

“Thank you, Reese.” Peter replied. “You have no idea how much we appreciate your discretion and more importantly, your understanding and acceptance.”

Reese nodded again. Then he turned to Neal. “And, if you ever feel inclined to call Peter “babe” again Caffrey, you save it for someplace outside of Federal Plaza and work hours. Am I understood?”

Neal visibly swallowed, “Yes, sir.”

Peter smiled, Neal was clearly too keyed up to catch the amusement hidden in Reese’s tone. “Okay, now that the serious part of the evening is over, let’s say we enjoy some dinner.”

“That sounds like a wonderful idea, Peter,” Reese concurred.

They all stood and Peter ushered his boss toward the dining room. When Neal moved to walk past Peter, he wrapped his arm around his younger lover, pulling him in for a quick, tight hug. “I told you it would be okay,” he whispered into Neal’s ear.

Neal nodded and breathed a reassured sigh. Peter could feel the warmth of Neal’s breathe against the skin of his neck. “You did, maybe I should follow your lead more often.” Neal teased gently.

“Maybe,” Peter mused as he stepped away from his partner and gave him a push toward the dining room.


 
 
 
elrhiarhodanelrhiarhodan on April 20th, 2014 12:36 am (UTC)
I LOVE YOU (and this fic) so very very much!!!!!!

I don't consider this late at all, merely continuing the marvelous celebration!

First you give me perfect OT3 after my favorite episode, then you give me (a complete surprise!) beautifully understanding and compassionate Reese. Hugs him, hugs this fic, hugs the little bear with a huge heart and a bigger brain.

Thank you so very, very much.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on April 24th, 2014 02:14 am (UTC)
I LOVE YOU BACK!!!

You are so very, very welcome!

I'm glad I was able to help you keep on celebrating you bday.

I didn't include Reese in the characters/pairings list because I was hoping his presence would stay a surprise at least through part of the fic.

angelita26: Hughesangelita26 on April 20th, 2014 12:39 am (UTC)
Awwwww! I kind of adore nervous!Neal. He might be my new favorite Neal. And I love that Peter and El worked together to try to calm him down.

I absolutely adored Hughes and his reaction - and the fact that it was Neal looking sick about the whole thing that swayed him. I so love that man and miss him so much.

Thank you for sharing! It was so, so, good!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on April 24th, 2014 02:16 am (UTC)
I didn't realize I was really writing nervous!Neal until he was on the page, but I kind of like him too.

I'm glad my Reese worked for you. He's fun, but a little tough to write.

Thanks for reading!
caseyf123 on April 20th, 2014 02:15 am (UTC)
That was just adorable. An unraveled Neal is just too cute. And who doesn't love Reese, stern with a bit of mischief showing through. I'm so glad he's always there for our boys. Great job.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on April 24th, 2014 02:19 am (UTC)
Thanks, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Unraveled Neal is definitely among my favorite Neals. And, Reese was the best.
kanarek13kanarek13 on April 20th, 2014 06:51 am (UTC)
Awwww, perfect :D Just like Ang, I also adore nervous!Neal, probably because then he needs lots and lots of hugs ans assurances from Peter and El :D

Such a wonderful idea and a chance to once again show how wonderful Hughes was :D His reaction was perfect and despite the overall seriousness of the situation, I couldn't help but smile at the image of Neal going through various stages of pale under Hughes watchful eye :D

Wonderful all around \o/
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on April 24th, 2014 02:23 am (UTC)
Actually, the original idea came from Ang! She is the plot bunny farm that's for sure.

I'm glad you enjoyed it. It was fun to write nervous!Neal under Hughes' watchful eye.

And, I'm always looking for ways to bring the hugs and assurances.
Stacysahiya on April 21st, 2014 04:27 am (UTC)
Oh man, poor Neal. You described his anxiety so well, I felt it myself! Lovely fic, thank you!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on April 24th, 2014 02:24 am (UTC)
Yeah, I made you feel anxious. Wait, no, that's not what I meant.

Thanks for reading sahiya!
joy2190joy2190 on April 22nd, 2014 04:21 am (UTC)
"Peter looked sincere and determined, Elizabeth mirrored her husband, and Caffrey, Caffrey looked like he was on the verge of throwing up."

LOL, love that Peter and El are the cool ones, not Neal!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on April 24th, 2014 02:26 am (UTC)
I thought that would be an interesting twist!

Thanks, joy!