evening_bat: Bat in flight, silhouetted against the moon. (Default)
[personal profile] evening_bat
Title: Never Truly Prepared
Author: [personal profile] evening_bat
Pairing: none
Rating: G
Word Count: ~ 1700
Warnings: none
Summary: It wasn’t like Neal to turn down a meal at the Burkes’.
Notes: Response to this prompt over on [livejournal.com profile] comment_fic. I, uh, continue to fail at the “comment” part of comment fic.

Never Truly Prepared

Peter didn’t like disappointing his wife. In fact, he usually went out of his way to avoid doing that. Unfortunately, he wasn’t always able to foresee problems before they happened. Take their dinner plans tonight, for example. Peter hadn’t realized they were anything more significant than a casual dinner with a guest. That was before he caught sight of El’s disappointed expression when he walked through their door without Neal that evening.

“I’m sorry,” he apologized for the third time. “I should have let you know earlier. It would have saved you the trouble.”

Actually, he should have known better than to let Neal wriggle out of their dinner plans after El called to confirm that he’d be there. She’d sounded so pleased about it, Peter should really have guessed that she’d had something in mind. Even if it was just bringing home more catering samples to test on Neal’s refined palate.

El just shook her head, regaining her smile. “No, that’s all right. Not your fault if Neal couldn’t make it. What happened, anyway? He was still set to come over earlier today, wasn’t he?”

Peter shrugged. “He stuck his head into my office near the end of the day, said he wasn’t feeling well. He looked off so I told him to forget about it and go home early.”

Actually, he’d pressed Neal to make sure he wasn’t in any more trouble than usual. Neal hadn’t been sick a day that Peter had known him, and he hadn’t looked ill enough to be begging off of dinner. True to form, Neal had seen right through Peter’s not-so-veiled concern and waved him off. He’d assured Peter he was fine, not dabbling in anything criminal, just in need of an evening at home. Peter hadn’t quite believed him - there were fine traces of anxiety visible through Neal’s usually flawless facade - but he’d let him go. He’d planned to check Neal’s tracking data that evening, just to make sure Neal had actually gone home and stayed there.

El frowned sympathetically. “Poor Neal. Are you sure he was okay?”

Peter nodded. “Yeah, he didn’t seem that bad off. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

El hummed thoughtfully. “Maybe we should go check on him.”

“Honey, he said he was just going to - wait, ‘we’?”

“Well, of course,” El answered over her shoulder as she headed back into the kitchen. “If you’re going to see that he’s all right, I might as well bring some of this along for him. It’ll only go to waste, otherwise.”

Which was how Peter found himself back in his car, El sitting next to him with a box of delicious-smelling containers in her lap, driving over to June’s.

“Can I just say that I wish you would use your powers for good?” he asked El plaintively.

She just smiled and patted his arm. “Eyes on the road, hon,” she said sweetly.

* * * * *

Neal’s failure to answer the knock at his door had Peter thinking that coming over had been a good decision. Maybe there’d been something wrong after all.

Or maybe he’s just scrambling to hide the evidence before opening the door, a cynical part of his mind whispered and he scowled.

He raised his hand and knocked again. “Neal!” he called. “Come on, it's me. Answer the door!”

There was a muffled response from inside the apartment at that, and Peter heard a soft sigh of relief from El.

The door cracked open a few seconds later, and a distinctly rumpled Neal peered out.

“Hello there, Peter,” he greeted crossly. “What’s wrong now? You told me I could - oh, hi, Elizabeth.”

He didn’t snap at El for stopping by, Peter noted.

“Hi, Neal,” El replied. “Peter told me you were sick so we came by to see if you were okay. Well, and to bring you some dinner. Cooking for yourself is no fun when you're not feeling well. Want to let us in? I can heat some of this up for you and we’ll get you settled.”

The smile Neal gave her was touched but strained. “Wow, that’s...really nice and I do appreciate it but now is - really not a good time.”

He hadn’t moved away from the door, Peter noticed, and hadn’t opened it wider than a handful of inches. His eyes narrowed as he gave Neal a quick once-over. A bit flushed and dishevelled but otherwise in apparent perfect health. He was even still wearing most of his suit from earlier. That Neal might be uncomfortable with letting people see him vulnerable, at less than his best, Peter could believe. But in this case, it seemed far more likely that Neal was covering something up with the surprisingly shoddy lie about illness and reluctance to let them in. That the apartment behind him was silent meant nothing; anyone Neal might be hiding would know how to be quiet.

Peter sighed. “Neal, how unhappy am I going to be over what I find in there?”

“You’re not going to find anything,” Neal retorted irritably, before taking a breath and visibly calming himself. “Look, Peter. I’m sick, I’m not really up for company. I’m sorry that you two went through all the trouble of coming over but just let me wallow for the night and I’ll be fine tomorrow.”

Peter glanced over at El, who gave him a significant look. Neal’s temper didn’t slip often and it was obvious that El wasn’t buying Neal’s attempts at reassurance either. Okay, then. If Peter had to throw his authority around, he would. They weren’t leaving until he’d reassured himself that Neal wasn’t getting into anything that would bite him in the ass later.

In the end, he didn’t need to.

Before Peter could remind Neal about the terms of his deal with the FBI regarding refusing his custodial agent access to his apartment, Neal twisted around to look over his shoulder.

“Oh, goddamn it,” he swore, the vulgarity surprising Peter. “Don’t even think about it!”

He vanished from the doorway after that startling outburst, leaving the door to swing open in his absence.

That was all the invitation Peter needed and he proceeded into the apartment, reflexively keeping El behind him as he did a quick visual sweep of the room. He’d been expecting art paraphernalia, which he might have been able to excuse as legitimate, and dreading obvious signs of forgery. He’d thought he’d find Mozzie, maybe Alex, hopefully not any of Neal’s other acquaintances that he’d be obliged to arrest on sight.

He hadn’t expected to see Neal conducting a low-voiced argument with himself in front of the doors to the balcony.

“Please tell me that I’m seeing things,” he requested of El.

She just shook her head, eyes wide and bright with curiosity.

Peter rubbed his eyes with one hand. Things were just never simple with Neal. Ever.

“Excuse me,” he called, laying a thick veneer of politeness on the interruption. “But could one of you please explain what the hell is going on?”

Neal didn’t break the glare he was aiming at himself. “Certainly, Peter. This is my twin, Bryce. Bryce, this is Peter and Elizabeth.”

“Your twin?” Peter and Elizabeth repeated in unison.

He shot her a look for sounding intrigued rather than completely horrified, as the situation clearly demanded.

“There’s two of them!” he protested.

Knowing that “Neal Caffrey” was almost certainly an alias and that all of Peter's knowledge of Neal's background was thus suspect was in no way sufficient preparation for the discovery that Neal, his partner, pet project and personal pain in the ass, had a twin.

She shrugged unapologetically. “So it seems,” she agreed cheerfully.

A pair of snickers drew Peter’s attention and ire and he turned his glare back on Neal and his - dear God - twin.

They were completely identical. Neal apparently favoured classier fashion, if Bryce’s nondescript dark clothing was any indication, and their hair was styled somewhat differently but otherwise, they were perfect mirrors of each other. Well, the bruises and bleeding scrapes on Bryce’s face and arms would help tell them apart for the time being, he supposed.

“Should I take it that crime is a family business, then?” Peter asked, eyeing Bryce’s injuries.

That prompted another round of laughter, the twins sharing a deeply amused look before Bryce shook his head.

“Not hardly,” he replied and Peter marvelled that they even sounded exactly the same.

“Oh, so you have a perfectly legitimate reason for being here looking like ten miles of bad road?” Peter challenged.

“Funny you should ask that,” Neal began brightly.

“Neal,” Bryce said warningly.

“We both ended up in government work,” Neal continued undaunted, “but Bryce is more of a company man than I am.”

Wonderful. Neal not only had a twin, his twin was a spy.

There was a long moment of silence in which Bryce glared at Neal, Neal smiled at no one in particular and Peter and El just stared at the twins.

Bryce finally sighed and slumped slightly. “You do realize you’re not supposed to go around announcing that, right?”

“I didn’t announce it,” Neal replied, stung. “Telling Peter doesn’t count.”

“Telling the FBI agent who chased you for years until he put you behind bars doesn’t count?”

“And his wife,” Neal reminded him helpfully.

El wriggled her fingers in a friendly wave.

“And you said I had a complicated personal life,” Bryce muttered.

“You have a train wreck of a personal life,” Neal corrected, not without sympathy. “At least mine brought us dinner.”

No, Peter reflected as he found himself seated at the table, sharing a meal with his wife, his partner, and his partner’s secret agent twin, things were never simple with Neal. But at least they were never boring. In fact, Peter would be willing to bet that things were about to get a whole lot more interesting.


End Notes: Title from a quote by Josh Billings: "There are two things in life for which we are never truly prepared: twins."


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