So, yesterday I look in the mail and find a lovely little pouch with a white collar t-shirt and a flask and a scarf and a wallet and all sorts of little white collar goodies. Apparently, I won a contest that I had entirely forgotten I had entered. My excitement translated itself promptly into this. Much like my last story, this is a collection of vaguely related pieces. This time, you get a glimpse into Peter instead. Title's from: "Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you'll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others."
Enjoy and please review!
Oh, also, thank you to everyone who favorited my last story, and especially thanks to my reviewers!
Even in the beginning, when Neal was just a grainy security shot (complete with mischievous grin) and a list of potential aliases, Peter had never managed to see him as the enemy (the way he was supposed to, the way he did all those other something-for-nothing grifters). This, perhaps, was why accepting champagne in the back of a van with no more retribution than a wry smile had never quite felt like fraternizing.
He'd come across plenty of criminals before who couldn't resist the urge to play with their FBI counterparts, but Neal was the first who had truly seemed to see it as a game. There was mockery there, yes (of course, he later found out that Neal couldn't so much as take a breath without injecting a hint of casual condescension), but more than that, their interactions always smacked of a kid on the monkey bars yelling "look at me!, look what I can do!" It was pretty hard to resent.
Besides, Peter could be patient when necessary, and it didn't take a genius to see that eventually the kid was gonna fall.
He wasn't sure for whose benefit he was pretending he didn't hope the consequences would be no more severe than a scraped knee.
Despite what people thought (by which, as always, he meant Neal and El-who were fairly often a united front against what they referred to as Peter's rigidness- he preferred the term "common sense" ), he had never really disliked Kate. The thing was, he didn't think she was evil, or even selfishly malicious. She was simply immature. She believed that she should get whatever it was she wanted and too often failed to see that other people (Neal, and many others by extension) might (would) get hurt. And as much as he wanted to hate her for that, he really couldn't, not in good conscience, anyway. Because Neal had so much of that same conviction in him that you couldn't just hate the one. Peter had never been a hypocrite.
That over-inflated sense of entitlement had been one of the first things he noticed about the young man. It wasn't until after they struck their little bargain (when Neal had been genuinely surprised that Peter didn't think he should just have a million dollar view) that he realized what made Neal different from other criminals. The ex-con didn't just believe that he should get whatever he desired, no work necessary, he was unshakably sure that everyone should.
The romantic in Peter (he called her "Elizabeth") found this a little bit endearing. To the realist, however, who had worked hard his entire life and was proud of what he'd gained, it was the single least forgivable thing about Neal. Because life doesn't work like that, and the sooner he got it through that thick skull of Neal's the better for everyone (because, like Kate, the kid couldn't grasp that there would be a fairly generous helping of hurt for other people too if he wound up back behind bars or worse. There were reasons, he knew, for keeping his life from tangling up with Neal's. But damn if he wasn't in over his head before they even got started. Neal had that effect on people.)
He was a New Yorker by birth. His parents were New Yorkers by birth. His grandparents had come to New York young enough for their birth places to be incidental, and were New Yorkers in temperament, anyway. If he'd ever stopped to consider it, his Midwestern attitudes (cowboy up) may have struck him as odd. Not being Neal (thank God for small mercies), had its benefits however. And he didn't think the ability to paint and sculpt and make even inanimate objects fall madly in love with him would be worth the sheer amount of self-knowledge Neal was burdened with. Having not created a hundred slight variations of himself, Peter was fairly content to just be Peter Burke.
It was simpler that way, for all its complications.
Haversham had been the first to point it out to him, in that odd monotonous way of his, but he wasn't the last. June had noticed it. Jones, too. Once the thought had planted itself in his head, it began to fester. The similarities were there, he had to admit. It wasn't just the looks (and why was it that Peter was the only player in this story who didn't look like he had just stepped out of some hyper-selective magazine tailored to dark haired, light eyed lovers of fashion?). There were other things; the romanticism, the generosity of heart, the love of fine art and fine cuisine, the ability to make him feel as though he were missing something fairly obvious and driving him to take solace with Satchmo. Mozzie had called him ten kinds of crazy for purposely choosing to take on the both of them at once, he had a lifetime of trouble on his hands with just Neal.
No wonder he so often found himself on the losing side of their matching grins. They were twin forces hell-bent on driving him slowly insane. El, at the very least, had a great deal of impulse control and common sense ( at least she did when Neal wasn't whispering "brilliant schemes" in her ear).
Neal's little friend was probably right, though, he must not have been sane to begin with, letting those two within a hundred feet of one another.
Neal and El always looked at him like he was missing out, basing his worldview on sense and not grand romantic gestures. Feet planted firmly on the ground, he failed to see the appeal of mysteries and secret notes and long lost loves.
He didn't have the heart to point out that, lack of whimsy aside, he was the one ten years into a genuine happily-ever-after while Neal was being duped in a big way and hurtling uncontrollably for a letdown of one kind or the other.
It didn't escape his attention that on both of the occasions where Neal's tracker had been removed from the equation, and the entire world had been opened up with all its many places to disappear, the conman had wasted no time in coming straight to Peter's door. He had accused El of overselling their bond, but sometimes he had to wonder (you're the only one, he had said again at the hanger, and Peter couldn't doubt it anymore. Neal never pulled the same con twice.)
This was as concise an answer as he was ever going to get when people asked him why he risked so much to save this man who'd built a career on all the things Peter was meant to despise.
For all that he liked Neal, for all that he was willing to stick his neck out for him, Peter did not feel even the slightest pang of guilt for running Alex's prints. For maybe the first time in their working relationship, the kicked puppy, "why don't you trust me" look had entirely missed its mark. And only the fact that Neal had just had a gun pointed at him kept Peter from pointing out the ludicrousness of expecting complete faith not twenty-four hours after lying directly to his face. He wasn't sure if it was a sign of respect, or of the opposite, that the lie had been so blatantly bad. He didn't really care.
The stakes were getting higher by the day, and if Neal wanted to sulk, well fine. He would do what he had to do.
The look on Neal's face when he casually comments on how the wine opens up in the glass is well and truly worth the thousand daily frustrations having a pet conman like Neal can bring. The thumbs up grin he gets for shutting down Rice reminds him in the face of a music box and a betrayal why this is probably all worthwhile.
Elizabeth had laughed uproariously when he mentioned Neal's swan dive. Peter, who was still stuck on all the ways the misadventure could have ended with his conman splatted on the ground four stories below, missed the humor. Even after she explained it to him, with tears of mirth in her eyes (oh honey, the greatest cake…the great escape…), he found himself more irritated than amused. Particularly when his wife decided immediately to conspire (again) with the wayward ex-con by transferring all her future baked-good needs to the newly opened establishment.
He had warned her for the thousandth time, in that half-exasperated, half-fond way that he swore hadn't existed seven years ago, not to encourage Neal. She had simply laughed some more (after all, someone had to keep the poor waif in top-of-the-line cuff links).
Honestly, he didn't know why he bothered most days.
He kind of misses the days when he was first chasing Neal. Back when it was still a game, and the stakes were so much lower. Back when he stayed up nights worrying about what present irresistible cleverness Neal was embroiled in, which was infinitely more comfortable than staying up worrying about Neal himself. Before Neal getting hurt had come to mean El getting hurt and June getting hurt and him getting hurt. When Neal was just another suspect (an amusing and interesting suspect, but a suspect nonetheless) and not his responsibility, not his friend and putting him in prison had still been a victory. When he knew Neal's shoe size and his habits and his favorite artists, but didn't know thing one about his dreams or his hopes or the millimeter difference between his real smile and that terrible false one that always sent splinters of pain through Peter's chest. It had been so much simpler, so predictable, back when running had been the expected course and not a personal betrayal.
He was reasonably certain, in those moments when the con-man was sitting at his dining room table conspiring with El, or playing with Satch, or calling him a philistine, that it was worth it, these new dimensions in their relationship.
He was never entirely convinced, though, because Neal was Neal, and there were leagues of difference between not wanting to hurt people and actually not hurting them.
Peter was a firm believer in the power of actions over words. And he never for a second believed that good intentions made any difference at all if someone still got hurt at the end of the day. He tried, over and over again, until he felt like he was beating his head against the wall, to impart these values on Neal (it was a trap he often fell into, forgetting that his partner was not a child, but rather a fully grown man with his own system of-skewed-values firmly in place).
Because, really, Neal almost always meant well, but that didn't hold a lot of water if the end result was a life sentence or (and they came close often enough that the fear was always there, in the back of his mind) a dead body.
This is what makes him hold his tongue so hard it bleeds as he drags Neal away from the smoldering plane with a thousand I'm sorries beating against the backs of his teeth.
That's it. Now it's reviewing time?