A/N Watching the last scene of "Front Man" I was completely taken by the plan of emotions on Neal's face. He barely moved a muscle yet we could see his terrible turmoil. I just wanted to see if I could put that picture into words.
Spoilers for "Front Man" but no bad words and this is not slash.
A con man has to understand his own emotions, why he's feeling one way or another so that he can use them at will, feel what he needs to feel in order to convince his mark. He must be able to feel and project real fear, joy, helplessness, superiority, dependency. That way the mark senses no duplicity because there isn't any.
Yet right now, Neal was terrified and didn't have a clue.
True, it had been 48 hours of rollercoaster emotions where he found he was conning people just to stay alive and to save the life of a couple of innocents.
He felt helplessness because he could not find the amber music box for Kate. He was uncomfortable meeting Steward Gless yesterday; after all, he had destroyed the man's reputation. He was frustrated with Kimberly Rice as well as betrayed because she treated him like a tool in her tool belt and then dangled him like bait without so much as a hint that he was the ransom and if he lost his life, it was a chance she was more than willing to take.
He was still feeling some residual pain from the repeated tazer shots and being tossed around and beaten at the hands of Wilkes and his cohorts. He was scared for Lindsey and for himself when they were being held and controlled by Wilkes, who, as Mozzie said, wanted to dismember him.
He was able to use that fear on Kathy very convincingly, knowing that Jim would blow her brains out right in front of him if Neal could not convince her to give him the itinerary for Thomas Loze. And then, when he saw Peter at the airport entrance, he felt relief because he knew that somehow everything would be alright, Peter had his back.
But then when Neal knew that Jones had arrived with the cavalry and saved his live, when Kathy was safely in the arms of her father and thanked him for "playing round two,
and saving her life, when Gless called it more than even, when Wilkes and his crew were captured and headed for long prison terms, for a short time Neal felt worthy of Peter's protection, his support, his respect, his friendship, his pride.
All of that made perfect sense. His feelings were justified, understandable, and useable at will. But now, now just a few words from Peter, before he walked out the door had him sick with terror, real honest to goodness terror.
"You can wear an orange jumpsuit and pine for the girl who got away or you can stay here and do something with your life. It's your choice."
Neal knew that Peter knew that Neal was going to steal that music box and he knew why and if there's one thing Neal had learned in the months he'd worked with him, Peter would not be conned.
The other thing he knew is that despite Peter's distrust of Neal's values when it came to material things, Peter trusted him with his life and he wanted to trust him in every other way. You don't put your career, you marriage, your life on the line to save someone who you didn't think was worthy of your trust.
Sometimes Neal could not understand why the man, who spent years on his case to put him in prison, now put it all on the line to keep him out, despite the fact that Neal continuously tried to con him and was even proud of his shameless efforts to take advantage of Peter.
Yet Peter had been there for him. If it weren't for Peter, Lindsey would be dead and Neal, Wilkes had as much as said it would be a very slow and painful death.
Wilkes, who had tried to use Neal to kill a lot of people, and then tried to use Neal to steal a lot of money, that's the type of person Neal had run with, even if only for a short time.
Then there was Alex who robbed people of their wallets just for fun and was very willing to use Neal to get her hands on the music box, just because it was a challenge. She played Neal as Neal played her. Neither trusted the other or even wanted to because that was not part of the game.
That brought him to Keller who was another one of Neal's old associates. Again it was a test of who could use who with Keller willing to do anything, even murder, just to humiliate Neal and push him into acting against his nature.
Mozzie, well he was a good friend, as long as there was something in it for him. He was the only friend Neal had really until he met Kate. Despite the fact that he loved her, Neal sometimes felt like he was holding on to that feeling for all he was worth. If and when any of them gave Neal anything it was only so they could get something back.
Peter used him too, used his mind, his skills, his life. Peter used him to help people and put bad guys behind bars. Neal was beginning to find that it could be a lot more challenging and even fun helping people instead of robbing them. But there was one other thing Peter used Neal for that he could not understand because he could not see his angle, what Peter got out of it. Peter used Neal to help Neal and that was something no one, not Kate, not Mozzie, not Alex, not anyone of his other associates, mentors, acquaintances or opponents, had ever done.
He still stared through the door at the hallway as Peter stepped into the elevator.
Again Neal had tried to con Peter. Again Peter knew exactly what was going on and could not be conned. It was just part of the game they played.
"I'm willing to overlook your trip off of the reservation because you did good today."
"Thank you," Neal said but Peter cut him off.
Peter didn't seem angry, disappointed, upset. "It's just the way it is." Despite the fact that Peter risked it all to save Neal's life and preserve his freedom, he'd still put him in prison.
If Neal got the music box he'd again be on the run. He'd be putting his trust, his future and his life in the hands of people the likes of Wilkes and Keller and Alex, just so that he could be with Kate, who left him, who played him who seemed to have freedom to do anything except come to him. He'd also lose the life he had been building as well as the trust of the one person he ever really trusted, Peter.
Only month's ago in the midst of a con, Neal told Peter life came down to a few choices. Neal knew now he was at one of those points. For him now, it was a question of who to betray, Kate, Alex, or Peter. For the first time in his life, the choice mattered and he could not understand why.
Peter was gone now and while the office was never empty, it was quiet. For all intents and purposes, he was alone and unfettered. Peter left the anklet on his desk. It was his choice. The electronic anklet meant no Alex, no Kate, no music box but it also meant a type of freedom he'd never had before but for that he had to tell the truth to Peter and for that to happen, he had to tell the truth to himself.
For the first time in his life, Neal was afraid, terrified, that in the next few moments, no matter what he did, no matter what he felt, it would be a con but this time, the only person who he would be conning, was himself. Deep down where he was the master of manufacturing true emotions at a moments notice to use at will, Neal knew if he didn't make the right choice right now, for the rest of his live there would never again be truth, there would never again be trust, not even of himself.