Agent Peter Burke sat behind his desk, groaning at the file in front of him. It had been two weeks since Neal returned to the FBI, and things around the office just hadn't been the same. Neal acted the same to the people who didn't know him, and agents in other divisions said it was nice to have the good old Neal back, but it was different in the White Collar Division, and everybody in the division knew that.
Peter glanced at his watch, it was two in the afternoon and Neal should have been back several hours ago. Looking outside the office, Peter couldn't see any sign of his partner's return.
"He's coming back." Agent Hughes gruffly said in the conference room next door. He had been noticing Peter's distractions for the last hour. "Calm down, Agent Burke, you're setting a bad example for the interns."
"He said he'd be here at ten this morning." Peter replied. "We're supposed to go to the hospital at three today to get that semi-permanent cast off him. He's been complaining about it all week, and if he misses his appointment...it'll be his own fault."
"I haven't heard him complain at all."
"Not out loud." Peter answered. "But I know it's driving him nuts. And he told me yesterday that it was coming off today whether or not the doctors said it was time."
Hughes smiled, and decided not to mention the difference between complaining and being stubborn about when an annoying cast would come off. "Well you're right, if he misses the appointment he'll just have to leave it on for an extra day."
Peter smiled at the thought, and leaned back in his chair. "I don't know why he wants to visit his brother anyway. If it weren't for his Anthony Rinolli kidnapping him, nobody would have to visit anybody in prison."
Anthony Rinolli was scheduled for a final sentencing in a month. Neal had decided to visit Anthony whenever he could while Anthony waited in prison, and this irked Peter like nothing else. When Peter asked Neal why he felt obligated to visit the brother who had betrayed him numerous times, Neal refused to give him a proper answer.
Now Peter was both frustrated and nervous. He couldn't help but be frustrated that Neal was late for the very appointment that he so obviously looked forward to for the last two weeks. To be honest, Peter was nervous for the very same reason.
Hughes nodded to Peter as he left the office, hiding a little smile as he walked down the stairs.
An odd-looking man moved into the elevator with Agent Lauren Cruz. He smiled at her and wagged his eyebrows as she waited for the elevator doors to close.
"Hello, dear." the rugged man smiled at her and she noticed a gap in his teeth. "Which floor are you going to?"
"White Collar Division." Cruz stated, and she hit the button before he could get to it. He stepped back and ran a hand through hair that seemed to stick up in every direction.
"Oh my! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy." The man clapped his hands excitedly and nudged Cruz on the shoulder. "That's where I'm going!"
"Nothing to be so excited about." Lauren mumbled, and moved away from the strange man slowly. She glanced at him quickly, not wanting to look at him for too long. His large brown eyes seemed to watch her without ever blinking. "Why are you going to White Collar?"
"There was a theft in my house. My prized collection of Annie Horibis paintings has been stolen." The strange man exclaimed loudly, and Lauren winced. His voice was a little too high when he got excited.
She glanced at the strange man's ill-fitting suit. The suit looked as though it would have been nice on the hanger, being a black, pinstriped suit with glossy buttons. But the pants were too short on the thin man and the man's bright white socks were shining through in the most horrible fashion.
"Who is Annie Horibis? I'm not familiar with that name." Lauren asked, trying to be nice. The elevator doors dinged and the man followed her out with one of the most embarrassing walks Lauren had ever seen.
"My daughter." The man gave Lauren a huge grin and she had to look away again. "She's an amazing artist."
"Really?" Lauren asked, trying to be polite. She looked around, and sat in the desk next to Agent Jones. Without batting an eye, the man plopped himself right on the edge of Jones' desk. "Does she have a gallery? Or something we might be able to look at?"
"I think her third grade teacher has her most recent painting. My daughter is eight."
Lauren looked to Jones in desperation, and he stifled a grin as he took in the man's scary-weird appearance. "I don't know if you're at the right place, sir. This sounds like something you should take to the police...if anything."
"Excuse me, who is this gentleman?" Hughes came up from behind the odd man and looked at Jones and Cruz with a question in his eye.
"A civilian." Lauren answered.
"I'm sorry, sir, but civilians must have special permission to be on this floor." Hughes reached out and touched the man's too-large jacket, just before taking a second glance.
"Caffrey?" Hughes asked, shock and confusion spreading across his face.
Both Jones and Cruz jerked back when Neal Caffrey smiled widely. "How did you figure it out so fast?"
"You're wearing that pinstriped suit you had on last week. I'd recognize that fashion anywhere." Hughes shook his head as Neal dropped the stretched-out look he had forced his face into and smiled at Lauren and Jones again.
"Wow, Agent Hughes, I'm glad I never went up against you." Neal said easily. It was easily for Neal to tell the truth when he was impressed, even when it hurt his own dignity.
"That's not the same suit." Jones said as he frowned at Neal, a smile starting to tug at his own lips. "There is no way."
"He pinned it up." Hughes interjected before Neal could respond, looking the suit up and down. "And you let the shoulders out, didn't you?"
"Good eye." Neal nodded. "June's husband was actually much larger than me, so I had to tailor the clothes originally. It's wasn't difficult to sew it so I could let it out and pull it in whenever I wanted to."
"And your sling?" Hughes lost the smile as he noticed Neal go pale. There was going to be trouble, he could feel it.
"Um...Never mind." Neal answered. He smiled suddenly, "I want to tease Peter a little bit. If you don't mind, I'm going upstairs."
"I'll tell him you're the new client he's going to be working with." Hughes chuckled. He'd let Peter handle any difficulties with Neal Caffrey. Right now, he wanted to see what Neal had in store for his senior partner.
Peter twiddled the pencil in his fingers, and glanced at his watch again. The doctor appointment was in half an hour, and he still hadn't seen Neal. He'd seen Cruz, Jones, and Hughes talking to a strange man who had wobbled in with Cruz earlier, but still no sign of Caffrey.
"Agent Burke." Hughes knocked on the glass door and Peter looked up. The incredibly odd-looking man was standing next to Hughes, shoulders slouching forward slightly. "This man has been robbed. I believe you'll be working with him directly on his case for a while."
"Oh, Agent Peter Burke! What an honor! Golly, what an honor." The man's voice faded into a whisper as he said this, and he wobbled forward to shake Peter's hand in awe.
"Excuse me." Peter politely said and gently tugged his hand away from the man when the man held it for too long. "Do we know each other? I recognize you from somewhere."
Hughes tried to hide his disappointment when he thought Neal had been discovered so soon. He really looked forward to this moment when he realized what Neal was planned to do. He knew it would be the highlight of the year to watch Peter Burke get a friendly con pulled on him by his partner. If nothing else, it would teach him caution.
"We do! We really do!" Neal exclaimed, rocking on his heals and toes in fast moments. Hughes frowned when he realized that Neal was still playing the game. "We met...oh...a little over five years ago!"
"I'm trying to remember." Peter looked up at the ceiling. "In an elevator?"
Neal nodded, exaggerating the motions to make everything look incredibly awkward...just as he had first done so long ago. "You gave me your card, and said if I ever had anything valuable stolen, I should come to the FBI."
Neal pulled out an old, rumpled card and put it on the table in front of Peter. Hughes choked on laughter, and quickly left the room as he realized that Neal and Peter had met much earlier than Peter ever realized.
"I remember that. Didn't you have an eight-year-old daughter's paintings stolen?" The memories came fast for Peter when he put everything together. He barely noticed Hughes' hasty departure. "You're back?"
"Just for you. I'm so excited to be working together." Neal grinned, and then twisted his grin into a drawn-out sob. "I'm sorry, I don't know why I'm having such a hard time."
"Hmm." Peter answered, becoming very nervous. He didn't like it when men cried. "You know, I think you'll work very well with my partner. He'll probably be working with you most of the time."
"Uggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhh." Peter looked back up in shock as the man in front of him crossed his eyes and stretched out a half-moan for longer than any normal person should. He took a long, hard look at the strange man, trying to figure him out before anything else happened.
When the man saw Peter looking at him in utter disbelief, a very familiar grin spread across his face. "I can't believe you'd do that to me."
Peter's mouth dropped open and he heard loud laughter in the conference room. Hughes, Cruz, and Jones stood outside the door, laughing at Peter's shocked face.
"Neal?" Peter asked, shock evident in his voice. "What...how...you little..."
Neal sat down in front of Peter, relaxing his face again and pulling a hand through his hair. He straightened it out and leaned in the chair, arms folding behind his head.
"Why is your arm not in a sling?" Peter's harsh voice broke through Neal's nods to the other agents and the pale look came back.
"I was sort of hoping to distract you from that a little longer...I took it off."
"You did what?" Peter looked at Neal's arm, and noticed how it hung a little lower than the left when he leaned forward.
"I took it off. I told you it was coming off today no matter what. I figured, why go to a doctor if I already know how it's going to turn out?" Neal gave a weak smile. "It wasn't difficult, I had to use a few tools, and it took longer than I expected, but now we don't have to go to the hospital. I figure it's a win-win."
"You took it off because you knew the doctor would recommend you keep it on for longer. And you knew I'd make you keep it on if the doctor recommended it." Peter stated, knowing the truth behind Neal's actions. "Did your brother have anything to do with this?"
Neal rolled his eyes. "I'm trying to make amends with Anthony. He's a good guy, and he would be a good brother if it wasn't for all the other influences. When he gets out of prison, I know he's going to leave me alone if I do nothing. But if I do something, maybe we'll be even friends."
"Hmm. We're going to have a little discussion on that later." Peter said. He looked at Neal's arm and then shook his head again. "Right now, I'm more concerned with your stupidity."
"I'm surprised you're not concerned with your own." Neal hinted, and Peter narrowed his eyes. "Or are you choosing not to realize how many times we met before you caught me, without you ever knowing?"
"You knew who I was long before I caught you." Peter looked over to the conference room door again. At some point, the other agents had left to give them privacy. Most likely to avoid hearing Peter's wrath at Neal's foolish actions. "You've been in that disguise multiple times, and I never noticed."
"People rarely notice anything when they're in awkward situations. And I always made sure it was an awkward situation for you." Neal unpinned the pants of his suit and let them fall down to the proper length. He then used the pins to tighten the suit jacket so it fit him once more around the shoulders. "Have you ever wondered why so many embarrassing things happened to you the year before you caught me?"
"The rotten fish incident." Peter muttered. "That was you?"
"I plead the fifth."
A/N: Hey everybody. I hope you enjoyed the conclusion. I may have prolonged the finale for too long of a time, and I hope you'll all forgive me. I made the excuse that the final chapter would be my graduation present to myself, but now I realize I just wanted to prolong the end for as long as I could. I've enjoyed writing it, and I'm sad it's over now.
As always, I value your input. Believe it or not, I look forward to critiques more than anything else. This is the only help I get for my own book...which is nearly halfway done! So thanks for everything, and I hope you've enjoyed the journey!