A/N: My first White Collar one-shot! Oh look, I'm branching out into yet another fandom! I absolutely adore the show, and this fic is just a little missing moment set directly after The Portrait. So, if you have yet to see that episode, well, here there be spoilers. I just thought it would be fun to do a little scene where Peter asks about where the real painting ended up, and here it is! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Look to USA and Jeff Eastin, not to a poor college student with no job.
A country singer croons over the radio, and Peter Burke's lip curls in disgust. He fiddles with the radio and finally punches the off button in frustration. Complete silence falls and he turns his head to look at Neal. His partner—or criminal in slavery, whichever you prefer, and maybe (possibly) friend—stares blankly out the window.
The normally impeccable conman is…well, a mess. His hair isn't done; it's a mess half-heartedly patted to lie flat which is ruined by the compulsive running of a hand through it. His shirt is miss-buttoned and isn't tucked in and there is—dear god, what has happened to the world?—a wrinkle in his pants. More than one, actually.
And Neal doesn't seem to notice a damn thing. He just keeps staring out the window, melancholy. He's said maybe two words to Peter the entire morning. Peter keeps watching him, lips tight, and then lifts his coffee cup from the cup holder. He takes a sip and then holds the cup in midair, hovering just in front of his lips.
"So…what did you do with the real Haustenberg?"
His tone is completely casual, as though he's chatting idly about the weather. But he certainly catches Neal's attention. For the first time the man lifts his head and turns to stare at him. Peter glances at him, coffee cup still in front of his mouth. He raises an eyebrow at the surprise on the felon's face.
"Surely you didn't think you slipped that one over on me?" He says. His tone is still neutral, like he hasn't a care in the world.
The look in Neal's eyes is calculating now. He pauses for a moment before responding. "I'm not back in prison," he says slowly.
"That doesn't mean I'm fooled." Peter replies. "I chased you for three years, Neal."
"I was never convicted for art theft," the man points out. Peter shrugs.
"But you are an art thief." He puts the coffee cup down and half turns in his seat. "So where's the real painting?"
Neal folds his hands in his lap and looks out the window again. For a moment it seems like he's going to completely ignore the question. "It's with its real owner."
"On the back of the original painting it says 'To my dearest Juliana. Keep this forever.'" Neal faces him, eyes challenging. "Juliana's grandmother was the girl in the painting. She was Haustenberg's illegitimate daughter, and the painting was willed to her. The museum decided not to honor the will and kept it. So she stole it back." He shrugs. "I returned it to its rightful owner."
"And you decided not to tell me…why?"
Neal gives him half a smile, but it doesn't make it all the way to his eyes. "I don't handle things your way, Peter. You were disappointed in me that I took the painting in the first place. Much less that I forged a copy of it. You weren't interested in listening to my explanations the first time around. Why would you listen the second time?"
He falls quiet and Peter tilts his head to the side, hands resting on the steering wheel. "So you're Robin Hood now?"
"People keep making that comparison." Neal sighs. "What the museum did wasn't right. It wasn't honorable."
"Honor among thieves?" He says, his voice dry.
"Just because my honor isn't the same as yours, Peter, doesn't mean it doesn't exist."
Peter chews on the inside of his cheek, looking at the man. "What happened this weekend, Neal?"
"Doesn't matter," he replies shortly.
He inclines his head. "Sure. Fine. It doesn't matter that your shirt is miss-buttoned or that there is a wrinkle running down your leg?" He snorts. "Let me take a stab in the dark here, Neal. Kate." Neal winces at the name, and he knows that he's right on the money. "What happened?"
Neal's blue eyes turn towards him for a moment. They're flat and sad and tired. "Doesn't matter," he repeats, and turns his head to stare out the window again. "She's gone."
Peter stares at him and can find no words. He settles for placing a hand on his partner's shoulder. And then he starts the car and the engine hums and the conversation is behind them.
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