Title: Carrying
Author: Rainbow
Fandom: White Collar
Pairing: Neal/Peter
Rating: PG/Slash
Warnings: Mention of the death of an original character (happening in the past before the story takes place), and some Peter owwies.
Spoilers: None
Summary: Neal does not like guns, and Peter wants to know why. He finally finds out why on Christmas night.

Notes: I have no idea what the terms of Neal's release say about whether he can carry a weapon, and I have no idea whether Peter would have any say in that. I am just guessing about that.


Peter Burke wasn't sure how it was that he and Neal managed to end up being shot at so much when their area was white collar crime. But they did get shot at – not too often, thankfully, but often enough to make Peter concerned about Neal's ability to defend himself.

Neal showed a distaste for guns, but that was probably because he, like most people, simply didn't like to have guns pointed at him. Peter wondered if Neal actually knew how to use a gun. So he brought up the subject one day.

"Have you ever thought about carrying?" Peter asked.

"Carrying what, Peter?" Neal asked innocently.

"What do you think? A gun." Peter pulled out his own weapon and was surprised to see Neal flinch and take a very small step away from him. He put the gun away. "I know the terms of your release say that you're technically not supposed to carry a weapon, but with the kinds of situations we've found ourselves in lately, I think I could make a case to change that. You could wear it on your ankle – the other ankle, Neal," he added when Neal's glance went automatically to the ankle that held his tracking device. "If you wore an ankle holster, no one would see it, so there wouldn't be any questions about you carrying."

The expression on Neal's face was unreadable. "Let me think about it," he said. He paused for about 30 seconds, then said, "Okay, I've thought about it."



"No what?"

"No, Peter, I will not carry a gun."

"Why not?" Peter asked.

"Because I don't want to," was Neal's reply.

"That's it?"

"Isn't that enough?" Neal wanted to know.

Peter could tell that his partner wasn't inclined to discuss this subject any further, so he let it drop. "I guess that's enough. But if you change your mind, let me know."

"I'm not going to change my mind."

Peter shrugged. "If you say so."

A couple of weeks went by, and they were shot at again. After they had extricated themselves from the situation, Peter asked Neal again. "You sure you don't want to carry a gun?"

"I'm very sure," was Neal's response.

"Just out of curiousity, do you know how to use a gun?"

"Sure I know how. I just prefer not to. I told you that already."

"Yeah, I know you did. I just thought that since we'd been shot at again...."

"Peter, I trust you to keep us both safe. You're the man with the gun. I'm not. I'd like to keep it that way."

Again, Peter shrugged, and again he said, "If you say so."

Over the next few weeks the two of them had the same conversation again and again. Peter would suggest Neal carry a gun; Neal would refuse without giving a reason other than that he didn't want to.

One day in December they were chasing yet another art thief. They had the man cornered in an alley, and he got off a lucky shot that struck Peter. The agent went down, his gun falling from his hand.

To the wounded Peter's astonishment, Neal grabbed Peter's gun and fired at the thief. His aim was dead true, and the man went down. Neal then grabbed Peter's cell phone and made several calls – for an ambulance, to Elizabeth and to the office. For the last one he pretended that the cell reception was poor, because he didn't have time for lengthy explanations as to what had just happened.

Peter was fairly certain he wasn't badly hurt, but he let Neal make a fuss over him. He kind of liked the attention he was getting from his partner. Neal pulled open Peter's shirt and examined the wound. "You'll be all right, Peter. I won't let anything happen to you," he murmured as he folded his own jacket under Peter's head. "You can't leave me, okay?" He hesitated, then added, "Elizabeth would kill me if anything happened to you."

As he was being loaded into the ambulance, Peter thought he heard Neal murmur, "This can't happen again. I can't lose him like I lost Jack."

When Peter was allowed visitors in the hospital, Neal was the first person there after Elizabeth. He looked very worried. "How are you doing?" he asked.

"I'm a bit sore, but I'll be okay," Peter replied. "Thanks to you. You saved my life, Neal. I don't know how to thank you for that. Where did you learn to shoot like that?"

"You don't need to thank me," Neal answered, ignoring the question. "Just get better."

"You know, Neal, after what happened out there, I don't think there will be any problem getting you permission to carry. You proved yourself more than capable of handling a firearm."

"Just drop it, Peter. Okay?"

A few days later....

Peter was at home recovering from his gunshot wound. Neal had been by several times to check on him, always acting very concerned. He always brushed off Peter's thanks for saving him, and he always refused to talk about his use of the gun.

"I don't understand why Neal is acting this way," Peter said to his wife. "Why won't he accept my thanks? He saved my life! Knowing him, I would think he'd want to take credit for that, maybe try to use it as leverage."

"You mean like Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in 'White Christmas'?" Elizabeth asked, mentioning the movie they'd watched the night before. In the movie Danny Kaye's character had pressured Bing Crosby's character into doing things by bringing up the fact that he'd saved Bing's life in the war.

"Yeah, exactly like that! Hell, I half-expected the movie would give Neal ideas."

Elizabeth thought about it for awhile. "I think Neal is scared."

"Scared of what?"

"Judging from the way he acts around you, I think Neal is scared of something happening to you. You didn't see how upset he was at the hospital while we were waiting to find out if you were all right. I honestly thought he was going to cry. He kept saying something about something not happening again. Do you have any idea what he was talking about?"

Peter shook his head. "No, I don't, but I thought I heard him say something like that while I was getting loaded into the ambulance."

"Honey, do you think Neal is in love with you?"

Peter stared at his wife. "That came out of left field," he commented. "What gives you that idea, anyway? Neal is in love with Kate. She's the whole reason he broke out of prison in the first place."

"I don't know if he is anymore," Elizabeth replied. "I mean, when he first started working with you I could tell that he was desperate to find Kate. But over the last couple of months his behaviour has been changing. He doesn't talk about Kate anymore. He talks about you and the things the two of you do together. And when you got shot, like I said, he was crazy worried about you. He was just as worried as I was. If he isn't in love with you, he at least has very strong feelings about you."

"So what do I do if he has these strong feelings for me like you say?" Peter wanted to know.

"Well, how do you feel about him?" Elizabeth asked.

Peter had to think about that for a while. He was very fond of Neal. He knew that if Neal had been the one to get shot, he himself would have been terribly worried just like Neal was for him. He was also very strongly attracted to his partner.

"I care about him, maybe more than I should," Peter admitted.

"What do you mean, more than you should?"

"Well, because I'm married to you! I shouldn't be having feelings for someone else."

"Don't worry about me, honey. I don't mind if you and Neal want to play around a bit. You obviously care a lot for each other. Don't get me wrong; I don't want you two to run off together or anything. But I can stand to share you once in a while."

"You mean that?" Peter asked hopefully.

"I mean it."

"I love you, you know."

"I know," Elizabeth responded. "I love you too. Now, speaking of Christmas...."

"Were we speaking of Christmas?"

"Well, we were talking about the movie. But since Christmas is coming, do you want to invite Neal for Christmas dinner? I think he deserves it for saving your life."

A few days before Christmas Peter was back in the office on desk duty. Peter being in the office meant Neal being in the office, and Neal drove Peter crazy by hovering around him all the time. Peter was constantly trying to find things for him to do, sending him to the file room or to pick up coffee. While he was touched by the man's concern, he'd had enough hovering at home from Elizabeth.

"Neal, do you have plans for Christmas?" Peter finally asked.

"Plans? Um, I don't know. I guess I thought I'd just have dinner with June."

"Well, if it's okay with June, Elizabeth wants you to come to our house for Christmas dinner. As a reward for you saving my life."

Neal laughed, but he seemed almost hurt. "Elizabeth wants me to? Don't you want me to?"

Peter hated to see the hurt expression on Neal's face, and he found himself taking Neal's hand in his. "Of course I want you to. I've tried to refrain from thanking you too many times, because I know it makes you uncomfortable, but you saved my life, and I am very grateful for that. I want you to come to Christmas dinner. We both want you to."

With a brief squeeze, Neal released Peter's hand. "Then I'd be happy to have Christmas dinner with you. Thank you for inviting me. My first Christmas out of prison."

Christmas Day dawned cold and cloudy. When Peter picked up Neal at June's house, he was surprised to see his partner dressed in casual clothes, even though he himself was dressed casually and had told Neal to do the same. He was just used to seeing the man dressed to the nines. He kind of missed Neal's hat.

Neal was carrying a bottle of wine. "From June's cellar," he explained. "Yes, I have her permission. I didn't steal it. But I couldn't afford to buy wine like this."

"You didn't have to bring anything," Peter told him.

"I wanted to," Neal replied.

When he presented the bottle to Elizabeth, Neal apologized for not bringing any Christmas presents. "I wish I could give you both presents to thank you for your hospitality, but all I have is this wine."

Elizabeth gave Neal a serious look. "Neal, you have already given us the best gift anyone ever could – the gift of Peter's life."

In response to Elizabeth's words, Neal stared at the floor and shuffled his feet.

It was Peter who rescued him. "Don't embarrass him, honey," he told Elizabeth. He was becoming an expert at interpreting his partner's body language.

The three of them spent the evening eating and drinking, talking and laughing. Neal told some questionably true tales about his life as a con man – carefully omitting any incriminating details, just to be on the safe side. He told stories about his and Mozzie's adventures. No one mentioned guns, and the subject of Neal's saving Peter's life wasn't brought up again.

It had started to snow sometime during dinner, and by the time the dishes were done and the leftovers were put away it had turned into a minor blizzard.

"You're staying here tonight," Peter informed Neal. "You can borrow some pyjamas or something if you want."

With a lascivious grin, Neal said, "I don't need pyjamas, Peter."

That grin, and the words that accompanied it, went straight to Peter's crotch. He hurried up to bed to be with his wife.

To his surprise, however, Elizabeth didn't want to make love. "I'm not the one who caused you to have that reaction, Peter. It was Neal. You should let him take care of it. I'm pretty sure that was the idea when he told you about not wanting pyjamas."

Peter's courage faltered, however, and he couldn't bring himself to go to the room just down the hall where, for all he knew, Neal was waiting for him. Instead he lay awake for hours, watching the snow fall while Elizabeth slept.

Finally, he made a decision. To heck with it, he thought. I've waited long enough.

He headed to Neal's room.

When he got there, however, he could tell that something was wrong. He could hear the sound of his partner tossing and turning, with stifled sobs and cries of the name "Jack." He pushed the door open and hurried to the bed. "Neal, wake up," he said, shaking the other man's shoulder. "Wake up. It's me, Peter. You're having a nightmare. C'mon, wake up."

Neal's eyes flew open and he sat straight up in bed. "Peter? You're really here?"

"Yeah, I'm here. You were having a nightmare."

Neal shook himself as if he was trying to shake off the dream. "Yeah, I guess I was. Thanks for waking me up. I'm all right now."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Not really," Neal sighed. "But I think maybe I should." He patted the bed beside him. "Want to join me?"

Peter slid into the bed next to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders. "Does it have something to do with guns?"

Neal sighed. "Yeah. Listen, what I'm going to tell you.... You can tell Elizabeth, but don't tell anyone else. Okay?"

"That depends what you're going to tell me," Peter responded. Then at the glare he received, he relented. "All right. I promise not to tell anyone."

"I wasn't always a forger or an art thief – alleged forger and art thief," Neal began. "Before I met Kate or Mozzie, I was just a small-time con man, running scams. I had a partner. Well, a boyfriend, really. We were lovers. He was older than me – kind of like you, in a way, except for the being a criminal part. His name was Jack. He's the one who taught me how to shoot.

"Well, one day Jack and I scammed the wrong people. They came after us with guns. They surprised us in our motel room. One of them killed Jack before he could reach his gun. I was lucky enough to get a couple of shots off, and I wounded the one who killed Jack. I got shot, too, and I decided to play dead. That's probably the only reason I'm alive to tell this story.

"After that, I didn't want to have anything to do with guns. A gun killed Jack, and could have killed me. I was afraid that a gun was going to kill you. I would have killed the guy who shot you, but he moved at the last second. Probably a good thing, though. Would have been way too much paperwork and too many questions if I'd killed someone, even if I did it to save your life.

"Do you understand now why I won't carry a gun?"

Peter hugged Neal to him for a moment before he said anything. "Yes, I understand."

"Is this where you tell me to cowboy up and let it stop bothering me?"

"No, this is not where I tell you to cowboy up. I understand why you don't like guns, and I promise I will stop bugging you about carrying one."

Neal relaxed into his partner's arms. "You know, I was hoping you would join me tonight."

"Elizabeth told me I should, and I try to always do what my wife says."

"I'll have to thank her in the morning," Neal said with a grin as he began to unfasten Peter's pyjamas.