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WC Fic - Clothes Make the Man (The ‘In the Rain’ Radio Mix)
Matt TNH 1
doctor_fangeek
Having succumbed to a bit of nudging, I took the plunge and signed up for wcpairings , a fic swap put together by the wonderful elrhiarhodan  and rabidchild .  It produced all sorts of terrific stories.  In fact, the longer it went on, the more I wished that my posting date wasn't so late, as I didn't know how I'd manage to live up to the standard that was being set by all the authors whose stories came before mine.  Which I'm telling you in large part to encourage you to check out all the wonderful stuff everyone wrote. :-)

And now that the reveal post is up for Round 1, here's my contribution:

Title:  Clothes Make the Man (The 'In the Rain' Radio Mix)
Prompt: Neal barefoot in the rain.  Peter watching.
Rating: PG
Characters/Pairings: Peter, Neal, brief appearances by the ensemble players
Spoilers: None
Summary: One possible future (there’s something different about Neal, if Peter can just put his finger on it…. )
Word Count: 2261

A/N: I can’t help myself, but I have to mention that this is now officially an AU…in which the Burke’s kitchen has not been totally remodeled. :-)

 

“I’ve got it,” Neal says, as Peter is about to get up.  Peter gives him a raised eyebrow, but Neal just smiles and points out that he’s already up before heading toward the back door where Satchmo is whining to be let in.  It’s a rainy Wednesday morning on an unseasonably warm fall day.  Usually Peter – and therefore Neal – would be at work by this hour, but today was not a usual day.  Neal, despite the odds (and more than a few pitfalls along the way, some of them larger than others), had made it through his parole, and this was his first day as a free man.  They’d officially unlocked his anklet for the last time yesterday afternoon.  There’d even been a cake.  Peter shakes his head thinking about it, but he can’t help but smile.  After four years, Neal had won over an awful lot of people at the Bureau.  Enough (and enough important people) that a paid position as an analyst was a possibility.  As far as Peter knew, Neal was still undecided about what to do with his newly reacquired freedom, and Peter was doing his best not to push.  For the moment, he would make do with being happy for the man who had come to be so much more than his responsibility.  Somehow Neal had gone from “asset,” to partner, to friend, and, ultimately, family.

Of course Elizabeth had insisted that they have their own smaller celebration to mark Neal’s successful completion of his work release.  And so Peter and Neal (and Jones and Diana) had left work early, right after the official announcement (or more precisely, right after cake).  El took care of the food and the rest of the invitations (June and Mozzie) and made sure Peter actually came home when he was supposed to (and if she called Diana as backup, well, she was just covering all of her bases). 

It had been a genuinely fun evening.  Mozzie had been less skittish than usual, despite the number of ‘Suits’ in the room.  Peter still isn’t sure how – or just why – they all ended up in a surprisingly cutthroat game of Parcheesi, but he knows he never wants to play against June with anything more than pride at stake.  June left first, with an apology and a peck on the cheek for Neal, but she was heading out in the morning to visit her daughter and had an early train to catch.  Diana and Jones followed not long after.  Mozzie lingered, helping Neal polish off a bottle of wine he’d brought, but eventually it was just the three of them, and Elizabeth had managed to convince Neal to take the guest room for the night.  Peter had actually been a bit surprised at how little resistance the other man had put up.

Peter had slept in the next morning, Hughes having actually encouraged his whole team to take the day off (possibly as congratulations for their collective efforts in keeping Neal on the more or less straight and narrow, or, at the least, out of prison), waking to find the other side of the bed empty, and the smell of fresh-brewed coffee wafting up from downstairs.  After taking a moment to just savor the fact that he didn’t have anywhere he needed to be on a weekday morning, Peter pulled himself out of bed and headed down the stairs.  Just as his feet hit the bottom step, Satchmo came padding over, tail wagging.  “Morning, Satch,” Peter said, reaching down to give the dog a good scratch behind the ears, before heading toward the kitchen.  He pushed the door open, and the first thing he saw was Elizabeth, standing by the counter on one side of the room, plate and fork in hand, eyes closed and a blissful look on her face.

“This is wonderful,” she said, before scooping another forkful of what looked suspiciously like Eggs Benedict into her mouth.

Peter wasn’t sure what, if anything, he’d been expecting to find in his kitchen this morning – other than his wife and a pot of coffee – but Neal Caffrey cooking his wife eggs probably wouldn’t have been on the list, if he’d gone to the trouble of coming up with one.  The man in question stood by the stove, still dressed only in the sweatpants and t-shirt Peter had loaned him the night before, watching Elizabeth eat with what looked to be a genuine smile of satisfaction on his face.  Peter stood in the doorway for a moment, struck by the scene but not really able to put his finger on why.  It wasn’t as if Caffrey hadn’t been in their kitchen before.  Hell, he’d even cooked in their kitchen before, on a couple of occasions.  Whatever it was, it wasn’t setting off any alarms in Peter’s head, so he did his best to shake off the feeling as he made his way into the room.

“Morning, Peter,” Neal said, turning toward him with a grin.

“Trying to seduce my wife with your fancy eggs, Caffrey?” Peter grumbled, but there was affection rather than any anger in his tone.

“I know better than to think that Elizabeth would be so easily swayed,” Neal said, sounding altogether too earnest.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Neal honey,” El said, momentarily drawing his attention back to her and smiling affectionately at him.

“What about you, Peter,” Neal  said a moment later, turning back toward  where Peter stood, still just inside the kitchen door.  “Fancy eggs?”

Peter was sure whatever Neal had concocted was good, but he wasn’t really an Eggs Benedict guy, and he hesitated just a moment, before answering.

“Ham and cheese omelet?” Neal asked, just as Peter was about to go ahead and say yes. 

Peter nodded gratefully, countered with, “Fresh orange juice?” and enjoyed the brief moment of surprise on Neal’s face before the other man nodded back.  For the next few minutes they worked in companionable silence, El having taken her plate and mug of coffee out to the dining table.  After a leisurely breakfast (with not only excellent coffee but fresh squeezed orange juice and some wonderful cranberry pecan bread that Elizabeth had brought home a couple of days ago), the three of them had shared the cleanup, Elizabeth had disappeared up the stairs to take a shower, and Peter and Neal had wound up on the sofa nursing their last cups of coffee, reading the paper, and not talking about Neal’s plans for the future (or even for the day).  Neal was just coming back from taking his mug into the kitchen when they both heard the sounds of Satchmo, who was apparently ready to come in from the rain.

And so Peter finds himself alone in the living room, as Elizabeth is still upstairs and Neal has volunteered for “drying the wet dog” duty.  By the time he finishes the news article he’s reading, Peter begins to wonder what is taking Neal so long.  At a loss, Peter gets up from where he’d been comfortably parked on the sofa, and heads toward the back door.  Satchmo, it turns out, has settled himself on the dog bed in the laundry room, in the corner by the dryer, but Neal is nowhere in sight.  That is, until Peter happens to glance out the door…where he sees Neal on the back patio, head tipped back, eyes closed, just standing there, barefoot in the rain.  He’s still dressed in the borrowed clothes from the night before, and though it’s not raining very hard Peter’s t-shirt is by now plastered to Neal’s skin.  It’s a striking image, and not just because Neal is a beautiful man (not that Peter is thinking about that or anything, of course).  It’s more the “rawness” of the moment, the way it seems so natural and unguarded.  For a moment Peter almost feels like an intruder, spying on something private, and then he suddenly, unexpectedly, finds himself flashing back to a much earlier “encounter,” so to speak, with Neal Caffrey…

“James Bonds” was no longer just the faceless artist who’d produced forged bonds good enough to catch Peter’s attention despite his already heavy caseload.  He had a face now, the face of the cocky young man with the audacity to walk up to the FBI agent investigating his forgeries – right outside the bank, no less – and start a conversation with him.  A conversation that ended with Peter holding a green sucker and thinking that something was somehow “off” about the whole encounter.  In any case, their talented forger had a name now, and a girlfriend, and Peter didn’t think the two of them were at the posh bed and breakfast in the Hamptons because they needed a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.  They were planning something, he was sure.  He had some ideas about what they were up to, but nothing solid yet.  And so for the moment Peter had to be content to just watch and wait.  Today he'd trailed them to an upscale golf club, which didn’t seem to fit with anything he knew about Caffrey, until Jones gave him the word that Caffrey was meeting with Edward Stansfield in the lounge.  The man was a major player in the business of big business. 

After his meeting with Stansfield, Caffrey and his girlfriend had headed in the direction of a nearby beach.  Peter had a feeling that their latest destination was not about business, but pleasure, but it wouldn’t do to miss something important, so he’d continued to follow them.  In the end, though, the two of them had just gone to lunch at a little café near the beach, and then for a walk.  Jones called to tell him that they were on their way back to the parking area, and soon after Peter saw them heading in his direction.  Caffrey was holding Kate’s right hand in his left, his pants legs rolled up to his calves and his shoes in his other hand as they made their way back to their car, when  suddenly, with only the briefest warning, what had been just a few clouds on an otherwise sunny day turned abruptly into a late spring shower.  Caffrey had grabbed Kate’s hand and they’d picked up their pace, right up until he pulled them up short just shy of the parking lot.  And pulled her to him for a kiss.  They broke apart, laughing, and then Caffrey had leaned his head back to look up at what was a surprisingly bright sky despite the rain, until Kate had reached up to cup the back of his head and they’d shared another long kiss.  Peter, watching from his rental car in the parking lot, had felt like an intruder then too. 

As Peter shakes off the memory, it occurs to him that back then he really was an intruder, and he really was, in fact, spying on Neal.  But here and now?  This is something different.  Peter’s gaze sweeps back over Neal, from his rain-damp hair to his bare feet, and it suddenly occurs to him that he’s never really seen Neal like this before.  Even “casual,” Neal is always carefully put together – a neatly pressed shirt, a nice pair of shoes, a polo that sets off his eyes, and so on.  Peter thinks he can probably count on one hand the number of times he’s seen Neal Caffrey barefoot.  That time in the Hamptons with Kate.  A somewhat fuzzy security tape showing someone who looks remarkably like Neal Caffrey making a hasty exit from one of the pool areas of a swanky hotel where Nick Halden had been a guest.  That one undercover operation that had ended with Neal taking an unexpected dip in the river.  Peter had had to go in after him, and had pulled a sputtering, indignant, and very bedraggled Neal out of the water, after which he’d gotten him out of his wet shoes, socks, and jacket and wrapped him in a blanket from the surveillance van.  Peter thinks that may be the whole list. 

Which is surprising, given that Neal has slept in the Burke’s guest room before, on not a few occasions.  But as much as Neal has seemed at home in the Burke’s home, he’s always been up and dressed by the time Peter has made it to the kitchen for his first coffee of the morning.  Something is different now.  He’d sensed it earlier that morning, he realizes, when he’d found Neal making El breakfast.  There is an easiness about Neal that Peter hadn’t even realized wasn’t there until he’d witnessed it.  A part of Peter – the part that has spent a long time seeing Neal Caffrey as a puzzle to solve – wants to solve this.  The most obvious (and simple) explanation is that it’s about the anklet (or the loss thereof).  But nothing with Neal has ever been simple.  And Peter can’t help but wonder how much of what has previously seemed to be Neal at home was…well, not. 

But as Elizabeth steps up behind him and puts her arms around his waist and her head on his shoulder, and he relaxes into her, Peter thinks that maybe he should just let go and appreciate the moment.  And when she says to him (and he can hear the smile in her voice), “Freedom looks good on him, doesn’t it?” Peter can’t help but smile too, and agree with her, and he decides that he won’t be solving any puzzles today.

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Lovely imagery and quite lyrical to read. I can vividly see Neal out there in the rain, barefoot and beautifully unguarded. *sigh* I so wish this moment could be in the show.

Lovely comment. :-) Thanks so much for reading and for the feedback. I loved the mental image the prompt gave me, and that was the starting point for this fic.
(Reply) (Thread)

Beautifully written and composed. I love the insights into Peter's feelings about Neal's freedom and how their past is still open to reinterpretation. You've taken a nice little moment and made it something much more.

Thank you so much for the thoughtful feedback. When I first got this prompt, I thought it might be a "five times" fic, but then I was contemplating the (admittedly lovely) mental image of Neal in the rain, and I found myself thinking about the idea of it being a rare, unguarded moment....

Again, thanks for stopping by and for taking the time to leave your feedback!

“Freedom looks good on him, doesn’t it?”

Hell, yeah... :-)

That was such a sweet story, I really liked the flashback to Kate which was adorable, and like it was mentioned, El had the best line at the end. I had the whole scene pictured in my mind and it was perfect :) Thank you !

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