Disclaimer : I don't own White Collar. This is just harmless fun.
A/N : I haven't actually written fanfic in a long time, but I caught the White Collar bug, and I was itching to fill in the blanks! Sorry if it's not quite on the nose as far as characters, I've only seen a couple of episodes so far. (But if I wasn't already hooked, Vital Signs would've done it!)
In and out.
It was always, and almost never, that easy.
The way things went in his line of work, it was eighty percept preparation, ten percent execution. The other 10% was lady luck, however she felt fit to shine. Sure, he could be a doctor, a painter, anything he needed to be in the blink of an eye, but the big jobs, it was all about the Plan. You spent days, weeks, sometimes even months smoothing out miniscule flaws that might give you away. Perfecting ink and paper, oil and it's medium, learning how to be the person you're pretending.
Neal Caffrey was an impulsive, person, sure, but he never acted without a plan. Getting there was the hard part. Getting in, out, and away with what he came for, was quick and efficient, though not without effort. He was gone before he could even be placed at the scene.
And if that failed… well, there weren't many situations he couldn't talk his way out of. And that was part of the fun, the hitches. The impossible saves. The moments that got your heart beating, and your brain working overtime. Neal Caffrey could talk a cheetah out of its spots, or so Kate once said.
Charm, quick thinking, luck, whatever you called it, he was good at what he did. But even the best sometimes got caught.
Which might explain why he woke up in pain, staring at the ground, and slung across the shoulders of a Fed.
An understatement, but all he could manage.
He knew that voice...
"Peter?" Even to his own ears, his voice didn't sound quite right. His tongue felt thick, and he thought that might explain things.
"Thank God," came the disembodied reply. "Can you walk? You're heavier thank you look."
The world tilted madly, and he found himself sliding, sliding until he finally was staring Agent Peter Burke dead in the face. He blinked, the world kept tilting, and he fell, only to be caught by the collar and hauled roughly upward.
"Shit," he repeated.
Was he being arrested? Had his errant past--and the FBI--finally caught up with him? Wait, no… that wasn't right. Or, it was, just not in the way he was thinking. Memory came flooding back--his deal with the FBI, his impulsive decision, and the trouble he'd gotten himself into--and he couldn't quite figure out how he'd forgotten any of it.
"Shit," Peter agreed, supporting him. "Neal?"
"Mm?" he looked back at the agent. Once he got the man in focus, he could see that Peter's face was red from the effort of lugging Neal all this way. Just how long had he been out?
"Can you walk?" Peter asked again. "The car's just over there."
Of course he could walk. He began to say as much when the world did another swift tilt.
"Uhh," he said. He drew the sound out longer than he meant to before deciding, "maybe?"
Peter shot him a look, but put his arm around the young man's shoulder. "Come on, lean on me."
He had the crazy notion to join in with a few bars, but decided against it. His throat was already kind of sore, and Peter looked like he was in no mood for that kind of thing. Instead he flung an arm around the man and tried not to lean too heavily as Peter ushered him to the car.
It was bright… really bright. He wasn't sure why it was so damn sunny outside, or, for that matter, why the world was spinning so wildly and kind of fuzzy around the edges.
Still, he mused, fumbling to buckle his seatbelt, it would be nice if the world listened just once. Talking a cat out of its spots, that was useless. Convincing his body the world wasn't set on spin cycle was far more handy.
He realized he was still trying to buckle himself in only when Peter reached across and did it for him. He forced himself to be still in the seat, watching as the older man started the ignition.
"You're mad," he said needlessly.
Peter only shot him a look, but the muscle in his jaw ticked. He looked down at his hands, then furrowed his brow, noticing the chafed wrists he sported.
"I'm sorry?" he offered.
"You're asking?" Peter finally said, glancing over at him.
"No. I'm pretty sure I'm sorry." he replied, wishing his tongue weren't two sizes too big.
"Well, that's good," Peter said dryly.
"I mean to say I'm sorry," he explained. "I am sorry."
He hadn't meant to get caught, of course. Hadn't even thought about getting caught. Hadn't had time to. It was a stupid decision, in retrospect, a move that would have sent him back to prison if not for Peter. What was he thinking, stealing that tape. Protecting Neal… protecting an asset?
He narrowed his eyes at the agent and decided it didn't matter. He'd gone out on a limb for Neal, rescued him and saved him from going back to jail. Didn't matter the reason behind it, and if it was all the same, Neal knew he was starting to grow on the man.
"I was right," he decided out loud.
"What?" Peter glanced his way, clearly wondering what he was talking about.
"To trust you," he elaborated. "I was right."
Peter sighed and shook his head. "Yeah? I hope I was."
Neal let that one slip past.
"I think I'm gonna be sick."
"Not in my car!" Peter cried, jerking the wheel to the right, taking a sharp turn onto a side street.
He slammed the brakes, and Neal slammed against his seatbelt, sending his stomach into another violent somersault. He tore a nail in his hurry to free himself from the seatbelt, threw open the door, and was sick, right there on the street.
He might have been embarrassed, but was too miserable to care. His stomach was rebelling, he had a headache the size of New York, and the world wouldn't relent in it's Tilt-a-Whirl impersonation.
He gagged again, but there was nothing left in his stomach.
Peter laid a hand on his shoulder, his voice worried as he asked, "Hey, you okay?"
"Don't know," he said, dragging in a breath of air.
"Maybe I should have taken you to the hospital," Peter mused. "There's no telling what they gave you. Or how much."
"Not gonna kill me," he groaned.
"You sure about that?" Peter grumbled.
He heaved again, spat into the street, and admitted, "No."
"Maybe to be safe--" he started.
"Please," Neal said, putting his hands on his knees to steady himself. "I just want to go home."
Peter sighed. "I can't leave you alone like this."
"Peter," he said very carefully, twisting back into the seat. "I don't care where you take me, but please… get me out of this damn car."
He wouldn't say it, for fear of sounding overly dramatic--hell, it was overly dramatic-- but he was pretty sure if he didn't get out of that car, he was going to die. The movement, on top of the dizziness and nausea, would surely prove fatal.
Apparently his misery showed, because Peter stared at him for a few seconds, then said, "I'll take you to my place. We're not far."
"Thank you," Neal sighed, relieved.
And that was how he ended up at the Burke's, still leaning heavily on Peter as they walked up to the door. Before Peter could even reach for the keys, the door flung open, and a very worried Elizabeth greeted them.
"Oh, my God!"
"He's fine," Peter assured.
"I'm fine," Neal echoed, offering what he hoped was a charming smile.
El only looked more worried, rushing forward to wrap her arm around his other shoulder.
"Let me help you."
"El, honey, we can't all ft through the front door," Peter said gently. "Why don't you go get him some aspirin."
Fretting, El stepped back and allowed them to enter the house.
"What happened?" she asked, hovering as Peter helped the ex-con to the couch.
"I was stupid," Neal professed, looking up at her with sad eyes.
"He was really stupid," Peter said. "El, aspirin?"
"Of course," she replied, still fretting as she turned on her heal and headed for the kitchen.
"Come on," Peter said, easing the young man onto the couch.
"I'm really sorry," he said again, miserably.
The haze was starting to creep away, and the more it did, the more he realized how stupid what he'd done was. It had seemed such a good idea at the time. He only wanted to help.
Peter exhaled. "I know you are, kid."
For what it was worth.
"Come on," Peter said after a beat. "Take off that shirt and lie down."
Neal reached for the first button, peering down with comical concentration as he fumbled with it. After a few seconds, he cursed, and Peter batted his hands away.
"Here," he said in exasperation, swiftly unbuttoning the dress shirt.
Neal complied, letting the older man tug on one arm, then the other, before folding the shirt carefully and setting it on the coffee table.
El rushed back in, carrying a glass of water and a bottle of Advil.
"Here," she said, handing him the glass. She shook out two pills and placed them in his other hand.
He mumbled his thanks and washed them down with the water.
Satisfied, she put her hands on her hip and said, "Now, talk."
Peter gave her a cliff notes version of what had happened, skipping the part where he'd pocketed a surveillance video, and emphasizing the part where he'd been belting out a song at the top of his lungs. El didn't even crack a smile, just stared at him with the same mix of worry and disappointment that only grew as Peter finished.
"Neal," she said slowly, with genuine concern. "I know you thought you were helping, and that's admirable… but if you do ever pull a stunt like that again, I'll kill you myself!"
"You'll have to get in line," Peter grumbled, standing up.
"And you!" she said, pointing a finger at her husband's chest. "How dare you let him go alone!"
Peter's face was priceless, gaping at her. "I didn't know he'd do something that stupid!"
Neal moaned, covering his ears. "Guys, I appreciate the concern, but can we maybe discuss my stupidity later?"
El's eyes softened as she looked down at him. "Of course. I'll be right back."
She disappeared, leaving the two men in a somewhat awkward silence. Just when Neal thought he'd have to apologize again, she reappeared with a sheet, a gallon bucket, and a hot water bottle.
"In case you feel sick," she said, parking the bucket next to the couch. "Here, lie down."
He did as she asked, letting her settle one of the pillows under his head. She draped the sheet over him next, and he had to resist the urge to smile at her mother hen routine. It felt kind of nice, but he didn't exactly want either of them knowing that Neal Caffrey, con man extraordinaire, enjoyed being tucked in. Finally, she perched the hot water bottle in his hands.
"For your head," she explained.
He caught on, perching it on top of his head as she bent over to swiftly untie and remove his shoes.
This time he did smile.
She shook her head, but smiled back. "Just promise me you'll be more careful next time."
"I promise," he said, seriously. Curiously, he found himself wanting to hold to his word. More importantly, he didn't want to worry her again.
He blinked, eyes suddenly heavy. The events of the day were catching up with him, the drugs finally working their sedative magic. It was for the best. If he slept, the ceiling might stop doing toe spins.
"Come on," he heard Elizabeth whisper. "Let's let him sleep it off."
"Hey El," he said softly, cracking his eyes open to peer up at her.
"Hmm?" she asked.
"You're gonna make a great Mom someday."
She smiled back at him, all warmth and compassion, and his gaze drifted lazily to the right.
"Don't worry, Peter," he said around a yawn. "You'll be a good Mom, too."
He closed his eyes, trusting that he was safe, and slept.